Twelve IHL board trustees appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant hold near-total control over the selection of the university’s next chancellor. During the hiring process, the board has the ability to seek input from a Campus Search Advisory Committee made up of Ole Miss community members, but that committee’s direct involvement is at the discretion of the IHL board.
“I think the feeling around the last search was that there was not that much transparency, and there was a feeling that the university community did not have enough input,” said Rev. Gail Stratton, who retired this past spring after 21 years as an Ole Miss biology professor.
The search process begins when the IHL board forms a Board Search Committee made up of trustees and selects a commissioner from amongst themselves to lead that committee. If that committee declines to use an expedited process to select a known candidate, the search process opens to applicants.
In 2015, the IHL Board Search Committee partnered with a consulting firm based out of Dallas to find a chancellor for Ole Miss. Then Board President Alan Perry worked with the firm to present candidates to the Campus Search Advisory Committee, but said IHL trustees’ opinions could differ from the campus committee’s.
“We have a lot of information through our consultant that the Campus Search Advisory Committee doesn’t necessarily have,” Perry told the Associated Press in October 2015.
Per the IHL’s bylaws, the Campus Search Advisory Committee reviews all applicants received before an advertised date, and its members are required to individually and confidentially submit recommendations and votes for five candidates. The IHL board reviews these votes and determines which candidates will be interviewed. After two rounds of interviews, the board will select a preferred candidate to visit campus and interview with various groups affiliated with Ole Miss.
The last Campus Search Advisory Committee consisted of 34 representatives of the Ole Miss community. The majority of members were alumni, among other affiliations, including then Mayor Pat Patterson.
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Oxford’s current Mayor Robyn Tannehill is also an alumna of the university and will likely be included on this year’s Campus Search Advisory Committee. She was not involved in the search process in 2015. Tannehill said she hopes the IHL will select a chancellor who understands the unique relationship between the city and the university.
“I do hope that the search committee places a high priority on seeking a leader who understands the importance of building community,” Tannehill said.
The IHL board will spend the next months navigating a field of applicants tinted by an array of often contrasting interests in who will be the next chancellor of Ole Miss. Regardless of their opinions of Chancellor Vitter, people in the university community want to see someone bold step into the Lyceum this year.
“Somebody who’s tough as nails…,” Stratton said. “A very skilled negotiator, a communicator who is committed to moving forward.”
(Hayes) Dent, (who graduated from the university in 1989), said in founding Stand Fast Ole Miss, he wants to start a conversation about building upon already positive aspects of the university.
“The ultimate goal of this group is to convince our College Board to name a Chancellor for Ole Miss who will not only pay lip service to these values (of free speech and academic freedom) but has a proven track record in his or her professional life that demonstrates a deep belief and understanding of these concepts,” Dent wrote on Nov. 9.
Regardless of who fills the role, the next chancellor of Ole Miss will have to earn the community’s trust before beginning to balance its many wants and needs.
“These are hard conversations, and those hard conversations take time, ” Stratton said. “Through building relationships, learning to trust, learning to hear about different experiences and sitting with that discomfort.”