November 20, 2009 11:35:00 AM
Jason Browne - [email protected]
JACKSON -- Thursday''s College Board meeting left more questions than answers, as the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning discussed Gov. Haley Barbour''s proposal to merge five of the eight state-funded universities.
And the state''s commissioner of higher education is urging patience, as the board focuses on items of immediate impact since decisions being made now will impact the state for decades to come.
Among Barbour''s suggestions are merging Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University and merging the state''s three historically black universities -- Alcorn State in Lorman, Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena and Jackson State.
"It''s just too soon to say what may or may not happen. Right now we need to let the presidents and deans do their jobs," said Hank Bounds, IHL commissioner.
That includes Dr. Claudia Limbert, president of Mississippi University for Women, who plans to retire in June.
The board passed on discussing a search for her replacement or a requested name change for MUW to focus on the proposed budget.
"We have a president until June," said Bounds. "(The board has) a few other things that are really pressing right now that we''re dealing with. Just because we''re not looking for a president shouldn''t give the media or anyone else the authority to go out and say ''Well, nothing''s going on with the W because they didn''t take action this month.'' Dr. Limbert has done an outstanding job and we need her leadership right now."
Bounds also noted MUW''s proposed name change remains a focal point.
"It''s been a focus of the board and will continue to be a focus of the board," he said, noting the board is in no rush to resolve every issue on the table.
"Everybody seems to want decisions right now as to when we''re going to do things. We''re going to take as much time as necessary to make sure we''re making the right decisions," he said. "We can''t make a mistake. The decisions these folks are making right now could have decades of impact on the state. It''s important we move quickly but take as much time as necessary."
"Whatever we do, the quality of education cannot suffer," College Board member Ed Blakeslee said. "If a student graduates and can''t compete in the job market, they''ve just thrown their money away."
Other board members expresses similar sentiments, reiterating the need for academics to thrive despite imminent budget cuts. Limbert agreed.
"I think this is a moment in Mississippi history where we need higher education more than ever. It''s time to add, not subtract," she said.
The delicate balancing act of maintaining quality with less money is the IHL board''s responsibility, Bounds said.
"If a university finds it necessary to cut pay for professors or reduce days, that''s a decision the board has to make," he said.
Additionally, academic programs which are losing money or producing few graduates may be eliminated from some schools.
The presidents of all eight universities have been asked to submit reports to the board by mid-January outlining their plans to balance budgets in light of pending cuts in state funding. The board will take action based on those reports.
Barbour''s budget proposal calls for a 12-percent reduction in funds to all state schools in 2010, but an IHL report says the numbers, as they stand, work out to a 15.5 percent reduction.
"If (the governor''s) intent is to cut us by 12 percent, that change needs to be made in calculation. It is a calculating error," said Bounds.
In regular business matters, the board approved a $2.6 million funding increase to renovate Poindexter Hall on the MUW campus. The W also was granted permission to offer degrees in public safety administration and technology.
During executive session, the board denied Dr. Stephen Rice''s request for a board review of the University of Mississippi''s decision to deny Rice tenure.