Letter from recent ASB presidents: Why Chancellor Jones won’t be easy to replace

Four Ole Miss student body presidents say that the IHL Board has threatened the progress they worked with Dan Jones to achieve.

To the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees:

As former presidents of the University of Mississippi’s Associated Student Body who have served with Dan Jones, we urge you to reconsider your decision not to renew Dr. Jones’ contract as chancellor.

Dr. Jones has played a pivotal role in our personal and professional growth, as well as that of countless other students. We are indebted to him for his continued guidance, but we are not writing this letter as a favor. We are writing because we love Ole Miss and want to continue the progress that we each worked closely with Dr. Jones to achieve.

We are also writing because, while in office, we developed open and honest relationships with the 12 of you. We attended your monthly board meetings in Jackson, and we relished the opportunity you gave us to share student input on critical issues. Unfortunately, when it came time to discuss Dr. Jones’ contract renewal, your doors were shut.

After your special session Monday afternoon, you cited seemingly minor issues at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as the primary reason for his removal. We respect your obligation for oversight of UMMC and the rest of the public university system, but it appears you have let personal disagreements cloud your objectivity. Your public remarks make it clear that you have not fully weighed the far-reaching negative consequences that Dr. Jones’ departure will have on the university and the state. As student leaders who have represented thousands of your stakeholders, we denounce your negligence.

By all standards, Ole Miss has never been a stronger or more vibrant institution. Against a backdrop of declining state and national enrollment, Ole Miss has grown by more than 4,000 students in the past six years. Academic competitiveness is up as well. This year’s freshman class was not only the largest in Ole Miss history, it also set the record for average GPA and ACT score.

The Oxford campus and the Medical Center in Jackson are expanding rapidly to accommodate the recent growth. Alumni and friends of the university have bought into the success to the tune of $350 million in private giving over the past three years. Their donations have in part supported the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the Croft Institute for International Studies, the Lott Leadership Institute, and many other top-flight programs that create opportunities for students at home and abroad. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Jones has set the tone for a socially-conscious, service-minded campus atmosphere, and he has worked to open the doors to the university wider than ever before.

With Dr. Jones at the helm, Ole Miss has never been more closely intertwined with the social and economic advancement of the state –– often in partnership with our fellow Mississippi public universities. The great work being done by the UMMC Center for Telehealth, the Mississippi Teacher Fellowship Program, and the UMMC Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities are just a few examples of how Ole Miss is leading the charge to positively transform the lives of Mississippians.

The progress has not come easily. As you know, Dr. Jones has had to make difficult decisions during his tenure. We were in the room with him when he made many of the crucial choices that have propelled Ole Miss forward, and as we can attest, he has never acted in haste. He approached every issue by first carefully reviewing the facts. Then he listened to diverse opinions, especially from those who disagreed with him. Only after much contemplation and prayer did Dr. Jones make up his mind. But when he finally made a decision, he let the public know that he made it, and he explained why he made it. Never once did he hide from a decision, and more than once, he took on undue criticism for tough decisions he made on our behalf.

You voted to not renew Dr. Jones’ contract without carefully considering all of the great strides he has made at Ole Miss. You did not seek out or listen to diverse opinions –– especially from the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who your decision most affects. By casting votes in a private session and offering only vague hints about the rationale, you have not given us the transparency that Dr. Jones has always afforded those who disagreed with him.

As the recent outpouring of love and support suggests, Dr. Jones has had a tremendously positive impact on the Ole Miss family. We agree with you that one person does not make an institution, but you are wrong to assume that Dr. Jones’ leadership qualities can be easily replaced.

If you choose to move forward with the search for a new chancellor, we have a nomination for you. His name is Dan Jones. We will always stand with him, no matter what you decide.

Respectfully yours,

Artair Rogers, Ole Miss ASB President 2009-2010

Virginia Burke, Ole Miss ASB President 2010-2011

Taylor McGraw, Ole Miss ASB President 2011-2012

Kimbrely Dandridge, Ole Miss ASB President 2012-2013

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