- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - For Aubrey Patterson, it’s legacy time.

His picture has already been taken down off the wall of the room where the College Board meets, and his announcement Friday that the board has chosen Glenn Boyce as the state’s next higher education commissioner could be Patterson’s last official act as a member of the College Board. The term of the retired Tupelo banker ends next month.

And one of the biggest legacies that Patterson and three other departing board members - Ed Blakeslee of Gulfport, Bob Owens of Terry and Robin Robinson of Laurel - has been the increasing primacy of the commissioner over the individual presidents. Board members made that policy change in 2005 at the recommendation of Tom Meredith, and then hired him to take over the augmented commissioner post. But in many ways it was Hank Bounds, who took the reins in 2009, who fully filled out those increased powers.

It’s that work that is threatened by the aftermath of the board’s decision to not renew University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones, which has produced proposals that would reduce the power of the board and commissioner over individual presidents.

“The advantage of having a system with a strong chief executive lets the board focus on strategic issues, policy and oversight,” Patterson the outgoing board president, said Friday. “Mississippi cannot afford a loose confederation of separately governed institutions.”

Incoming Board President Alan Perry of Jackson also defending the wisdom of the current setup Thursday as he saluted the departing trustees. He said the system had brought many benefits, like an energy efficiency program that’s saved $70 million across the eight campuses, a better agreement to ensure community college credits transfer to universities, and a new system to distribute state money to universities.

“This is a good group and a good system and a good organization,” Perry said, “and it is better than it was.”

Supporters of Jones, though, want to change or even dissolve the current structure. Jones, in announcing that he was stepping down on April 2, endorsed a call for Ole Miss to have its own board.

“Certainly my job would have been easier for past several years if the university had had its own separate governing board,” he said.

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, is among those who picked up the call. He said Friday that the state’s universities have grown too large and complex for one group since the board was created more than 70 years ago. He prefers to create individual boards that would take some authority including hiring and firing presidents, but said he believes the current trustees would retain “75 percent” of their current duties.

It won’t be easy to amend the state Constitution to make the change, which requires supermajority votes in both houses of the Legislature, followed by a vote of the people.

“I recognize that it’s an uphill battle trying to get two-thirds votes,” Tollison said.

Patterson, though said it the current structure will “preserve a system that’s unified and yet recognizes the different missions of the institutions it governs.” And he’s ready to hash it out with those seeking changes.

“I hope that a thorough and thoughtful debate on these issues will affirm those views,” he said.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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