“It was pride that changed angels into devils,” taught Saint Augustine.
Media reports on the controversy between Dr. Dan Jones, Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, and the IHL Board of Trustees have painted Dr. Jones as an angel and board members as devils. That is not a fair characterization. Good people serve on the board and Dr. Jones has displayed piques of prideful behavior.
Appropriately celebrated publicly for upbuilding the university and its medical center, this affable, gifted leader chose to fight attempts by the IHL Board to improve lax business practices and inadequate controls at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “I was unwilling to replace people at the medical center who I thought were honest, hardworking people trying to make this problem better,” he told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “I was unwilling to throw them under the bus.”
That Dr. Jones took great pride in the medical center and its staff and was unwilling to make changes desired by his board was one issue. But, it was his manner of unwillingness that became the terminal issue. The personas university presidents present to public constituencies do not always resemble the personas they present to the IHL Board. Dr. Jones’ behavior in private meetings with the board on the medical center over the past two years has been described as angry, uncooperative and defiant.
Finally, a large majority of the board decided Dr. Jones’ unwillingness and behavior had gone on long enough. They began to discuss not renewing his contract.
This is not to say board members contributed nothing to the deteriorating relationship. Strong, prideful board personas pushing hard to get their way can stir emotions and umbrage in strong university leaders. But it’s up to presidents to adapt to the board, not the other way around.
Two weeks ago all this came to a head when Dr. Jones insisted the board tell him the status of his contract. When board members said they did not see a way for renewal to pass, he reportedly stormed out of the meeting.
As this column was written there were reports that negotiations between the board and Dr. Jones were occurring. Actually, incoming IHL Commissioner Jim Borsig was talking with Dr. Jones to see if he was now willing to take steps to reconcile with the board. However, attacks on board members by Ole Miss supporters were making them bow up.
“It is humility that makes men as angels,” goes the rest of Saint Augustine’s quote.
An meaningful turn to humility by both the Chancellor and IHL Board members will be needed to sustain any reconciliation that may occur.
NOTE: This same opportunity occurred in 2013 when the board offered Dr. Jones a mid-term contract extension out to 2017. It came with the proviso that he address the issues at the medical center and be more responsive to board oversight. Mid-contract extensions are standard board actions. Reportedly, the Chancellor bowed up over the medical center provision so no extension occurred.