Can we trust the governor of Mississippi to do what’s best for the faculty, staff and students of the state’s universities— even if that means signing away his power? Probably not. The only hope we have in lessening the power of the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board of Trustees is in Congress.
The fiasco of the chancellor appointment process conducted by the IHL last October is still a fresh wound felt deeply at the University of Mississippi. However, it was not the IHL’s only less-than-smooth transition; appointments at Jackson State University also caused controversy. Chancellor Glenn Boyce’s appointment was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now, the state legislature is calling the legitimacy of the IHL into question, and it is our responsibility as members of the LOU community to lead the fight.
Under Mississippi’s current system, the members of the IHL board are appointed by the governor. The board members have the power to conduct processes for certain positions at each of the state’s universities. For the first time in state history, all of the current board members of the IHL were appointed by the same governor. It does not take an expert in politics to see where this could give way to an imbalance of power.
Ole Miss students have held protests on campus, and faculty have voted “no confidence” in the IHL. The two groups have expressed their outrage to Mississippi congressmen, and with four IHL board members’ terms set to expire in 2021, our lawmakers are beginning to feel the pressure for reform during the 2020 session.
On Tuesday, Rep. Trey Lamar informed Mississippians of his much-needed plan for reform. He proposed an amendment to the Mississippi Constitution, splitting the governor’s power to appoint board members of the IHL with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house.
Although the details of the policies are unclear, there is much to be said about the reformation process. First, for an amendment, a concurrent resolution must pass with the approval of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the House and Senate. From there, the amendment would be up for vote on a statewide ballot.
But the process isn’t finished there. The change to the Mississippi Constitution would mandate a change in state law, so a separate bill would also need to come to the House floor. If passed by a simple majority in both houses, the bill would eventually be placed on the governor’s desk, where it will likely be vetoed; we wouldn’t expect Governor Reeves to turn over his power so easily.
Although it seems like the struggle for reform is predicted to be all-for-naught, this attempt is still important. Raising awareness about the flaws in Mississippi’s governance and politics is our best hope in enacting change.
This will take work from all students and faculty. Members of the state legislature need to be made aware of the vitality of this amendment. A simple phone call to your state legislator will go a long way. This is our best hope in overturning the governor’s seemingly guaranteed veto and seeing the change for which we’ve been waiting patiently.
Lydia Johnsey is a freshman international studies major from Fayetteville, Tennessee.