- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Some state lawmakers said Tuesday that Mississippi needs separate boards to govern each of its eight public universities, citing a controversial decision by the College Board to dismiss University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones.

Officials at the University of Mississippi Medical Center defended their conduct, meanwhile, and Ole Miss faculty members called for Jones’ reinstatement.

A backlash continued after College Board members defended their decision Monday not to renew Jones contract once it’s up in September. Members said Jones hadn’t done enough to resolve concerns over contracting and business operations at the sprawling medical center.

Incoming trustee President Alan Perry said he remains open to some sort of settlement.

“I’m open to lots of things, including any resolution, but it has to be one that recognizes the power of the board and ensures the performance of the board’s fiduciary duties,” he said Tuesday.

Far from respecting the board, some Jones supporters want to take away its 75-year-old power under the state Constitution to oversee Mississippi’s public universities.

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford seeks to introduce a bill to create individual boards of trustees for each university, with the power to hire and fire presidents. The current 12-member College Board would retain a coordinating role. Tollison would need a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules in the Senate, and then a two-thirds vote of each house to amend the state Constitution. He admits it’s a longshot late in the legislative session.

“It’s to prevent something like this from happening in the future,” said Tollison, who collected 37 of 52 senators as co-sponsors for his plan.

Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, said he intends to seek a study committee to examine the issue and make recommendations to the 2016 Legislature.

“I have felt for a long time that our (College Board) model may be an inefficient model for Mississippi,” Mayo said. “We have very different universities.”

Perry said he thinks the current setup is valuable because it makes sure political strength doesn’t determine funding from lawmakers.

Dr. James Keeton, who recently retired as associate chancellor overseeing UMMC, defended the medical center’s operations before reporters Tuesday. A review last fall found numerous violations of College Board policy.

“It shows that prior to our contract management office back in 2012, we were pretty loose and kind of sloppy in what we did,” Keeton said.

He said things have drastically improved since then.

“We are working hard to make things better,” Keeton said.

When asked what his reaction was to Jones not being renewed, Keeton said it was “emotional” and paused.

“Hell of a guy,” Keeton said through tears. “I’m not happy. About the best friend I got. He’s a hell of a physician and has great integrity. And he cares about this place, and he cares about Ole Miss.”

The University of Mississippi Foundation joined the alumni association and major donors in releasing statements supporting Jones.

The Ole Miss Faculty Senate scheduled a meeting Tuesday night to adopt a resolution supporting him, and students are planning a noontime rally Wednesday in Oxford.


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

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