How trust was lost in Ole Miss chancellor search: 'It was a sham'
OXFORD | Campbell McCool stood in front of the Ole Miss chancellor search committee on September 5 during a nine-hour listening session and pleaded for a longstanding prediction to not be true.
The Oxford businessman didn’t mention Glenn Boyce by name, but he repeated the “disturbing rumor” and said many in the Mississippi business community believed the IHL will eventually "review all the applicants and nobody’s quite going to come up to par and that the job is going to be offered to a former consultant to this board who was not an applicant.”
That seminal minute or so in bringing the Boyce talk beyond whispers and conversations that had been going on for months was made prophetic on Friday when the IHL announced Boyce as the next Ole Miss chancellor, sending out a press release an hour after a chaotic attempted news conference came to an end.
Boyce’s tenure begins on or before October 14, and it’s embattled before it even reaches the Lyceum. His history as a search consultant, tasked with interviewing Ole Miss stakeholders to gather a profile for the ideal candidate, led to his hiring following an expedited process and included at least $87,000 in consulting fees that Boyce has defended as his without a conflict of interest.
Skepticism of the process that led to Boyce's hiring abounds, as evidenced by Friday's aborted ceremony to introduce Boyce. One source, speaking to RebelGrove.com on background, said Boyce's hiring was predetermined as early as April. Another said the decision to hire Boyce was made as early as November.
Obviously, there's no evidentiary proof that the process was predetermined to end in Boyce's hiring, but the circumstances of last week's decision to scrap the final phases of the IHL's stated procedures has led to sweeping disgust among many who were involved over the past months.
Further exacerbating that frustration is when Boyce, in his initial comments during his exclusive interview with The Daily Mississippian, said he had no concrete plans to improve the university.
“(I) can’t be concrete yet because I have so much to learn,” Boyce said.
Several sources have used that as an example of their cynicism regarding Thursday's developments.
On Friday, in a teleconference with reporters, Boyce said he was not involved in the search after his role as an advisor concluded. However, McCool wasn't the only person who heard rumors of Boyce's interest in the chancellor's job. Another candidate, speaking on background, said he spoke with Boyce about the position as late as mid-September. Multiple sources familiar with the candidacy of University of Arizona chancellor Robert Robbins said Robbins met with Boyce and walked away from the meeting saying he had just met with someone who also wanted the position.
One potential candidate, last spring, left a meeting with Boyce with questions about the process.
“It felt like a reverse interview, like he was credentialing himself," he said.
Boyce spent the spring speaking with many different groups of Ole Miss supporters. One night at McEwen’s in Oxford, he and search committee chair Dr. Ford Dye had dinner with a handful of younger Ole Miss alumni to hear them out about their desires for the university.
Multiple people present that night told RebelGrove.com that Boyce was “charismatic" and "chummy in a positive way” and didn’t present himself as a hopeful candidate. Those in attendance left in good spirits, though one particular question seemed to go unanswered and stuck with the dinner party.
“We were more adversarial than some of the older people probably were,” Oxford resident Stewart Rutledge said. “We asked what they are going to do differently this time and to define different by telling us what they did wrong... to answer specifically ‘how did you fail and how can you change?’
“That question wasn’t really answered, and we weren’t terribly surprised last week. It doesn’t appear anything changed.”
The IHL, according to its published policies, failed to follow the hiring process when it named Boyce the next chancellor.
The bylaws describe a search process that follows the same timeline reported this past May. The IHL formed a campus search advisory committee of 39 members in June 2019 and then an interview search advisory committee in September. On Wednesday and Thursday this week, it conducted a first round of interviews. The interview search advisory committee -- other than its co-chairs: Oxford mayor Robyn Tannehill and associate dean Charles Hussey -- didn't attend the interviews, which is acceptable in the bylaws.
The process followed to completion would have included a second round of interviews, the naming of a preferred candidate, a full day of interviews on campus with stakeholders and then a vote.
On Thursday, the IHL ended the standard hiring process when an IHL member moved to add Boyce to the candidate pool, members interviewed Boyce within an hour, and then they voted to hire him.
"There’s a lot of division in the Ole Miss family right now and we felt like the best thing we could do is get Dr. Boyce in place as soon as possible to help unify the Ole Miss people,” Dye said Friday.
The IHL has the authority to follow an expedited process of interviewing and hiring internal candidates. But, that process must begin before a search consultant is hired. The IHL has used search firm Buffkin Baker since the process began.
According to its bylaws, this section amended in 2018, the IHL has the ability to add steps to an expedited process but not to end a search abruptly or create an expedited search midway through the process.
The IHL offered Boyce the position, and Boyce accepted, on Thursday without a total compensation package in place. Typically the chancellor’s annual income comes from a close to 50-50 split between state and foundation amounts.
Dye confirmed to RebelGrove.com on Saturday that Boyce has a contract agreement, but sources say the foundation hasn’t set a figure for the other portion of Boyce’s salary.
“IHL is working with foundation as we do with all eight universities,” Dye said.
Bylaws aside, many were left wondering late last week why the process came to such a quick end on Thursday in Jackson. On September 29, Mississippi Today published a story listing eight people who had received invitations to interview for the position. Two days later, Robbins, at the urging of those in Arizona, told newspapers he wasn’t a candidate for the Ole Miss post and disputed reports that he had received an invitation to interview.
“To paraphrase a famous quote, I shall not and would not seek this position,” Robbins said.
Arkansas State chancellor Kelly Damphouse also withdrew his name from consideration early last week. At least five candidates -- Texas Wesleyan president Fred Slabach, former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, Eastern Kentucky president Michael Benson, Auburn provost/senior vice-president of academic affairs Bill Hardgrave and Oxford attorney Cal Mayo -- interviewed in Jackson Wednesday and Thursday.
Dye referred to the leak of the list as one of several “twists and turns” in the process. However, several people involved in the process said they believe the leak was intentional, designed to force some of the more popular candidates from the race and potentially muddy the search.
Boyce, who had told multiple people over the past several months that he didn’t want the job, was called in Thursday, given a quick interview and hired without going through many of the prerequisites like other candidates.
One source involved in the process said the final result was “disappointing.” Another called the developments “illogical.” Another cut through the niceties.
“It was," he said, "a sham."