USM: Another Year in the Fourth Tier
America's Best Colleges 2006, the well known publication from US News & World Report, is now out.
One year ago, the University of Southern Mississippi dropped into the fourth tier of national universities. Today it remains there, ranked 198th out of 248.
I have not yet seen the hard copy of America's Best Colleges 2006, so I can't comment on all of the components of USM's ranking. However, the institution's peer evaluation score (25% of the total) has slipped by just one tenth of a point, from 2.2 to 2.1 (on a scale where 1.0 is lowest and 5.0 is highest). Considering that USM remains under the misrule of one of the worst university presidents in American history until May 2007, and is presently under probation from its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, it's amazing that the peer evaluation score hasn't dropped more decisively.
What has changed significantly since August 2004 is the tone of the USM administration's response. President Shelby F. Thames did not speak to the press on the issue. His notorious spokeswoman, Lisa Mader, abandoned ship in May of this year. Now the talking is being done by the single member of Thames' henchcrew who still retains some hope of exercising power at USM after he is gone:
...Joan Exline, assistant to the president for accreditation, planning and articulation, said USM was not expecting an improvement, especially after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed Southern Miss on a one-year probation during the past year...
"While being highly ranked is always nice, Southern Miss faculty and staff are focusing on many other performance indicators not included in the magazine's methodology," Exline said."Examples include excellence in teaching, funded research projects, contributions to economic development, operating efficiency, student achievements and learning outcomes."
Exline is trying to change the subject. An institution that values excellence in teaching would not have run off more than 200 experienced faculty members in three years; an institution that is successfully promoting funded research projects would show a much higher growth rate in annual grant funding; an institution genuinely concerned about operating efficiency would actually cut administrative positions, instead of reshuffling them while proclaiming nonexistent cost savings. As for" contributions to economic development," an empty industrial park and an occcasional sweetheart deal with a politically connected enterprise have done nothing to promote the economic well-being of the average person in the southern third of Mississippi.
Still, her garden-variety excuse making beats the frantic irrelevancies that poured out of the Dome (USM's central administrative building) a year ago. And this time the poor results cannot be blamed on former Provost Tim Hudson, who departed from USM in July 2004. USM was penalized in the rankings last year because some information about graduate programs was never sent to US News; this year's ranking, we may be sure, is based on complete information.
Thames supporters were hoping that USM would rebound to the third tier. That would have given them a basis for pressing the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees to reverse its May ruling, and extend their man's grip on power till 2010. But even after further confirmation of Thames' lame-duckitude, USM faces unanswered questions:
- Now that the IHL Board has chosen Tom Meredith, the present Chancellor of the Georgia state university system, to replace Richard Crofts as IHL Commissioner, will the Board seek to raise USM's standing? Or will the Board merely solidify USM's inferiority to Ole Miss and Miss State (which remain in the 3rd tier)?
- Will the massive report that USM turned in to SACS on August 2 be sufficient to get its probation lifted?
- Can the disorganization and decay that Ken Malone brought to USM's Gulf Park satellite campus, during his stint as"Chief Operating Officer," be reversed by Pat Joachim, the newly hired Associate Provost?
And several of Thames' terrible precedents remain in force. For instance, Pileum, the information technology consulting firm that was brought in to do his dirty work, is reportedly gone from campus. But USM is still subject to his draconian computer use policy; everyone still assumes that emails to or from USM accounts will be read.
comments powered by Disqus
- Nelson Mandela Dead: Icon of Anti-Apartheid Movement Dies at 95
- George H.W. Bush Given Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation Award
- Bruce Springsteen's 'Born To Run' manuscript could fetch $100,000 at NY auction
- Hospital Donates Records of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to JFK Library
- Australia’s Eureka Flag Finds a New Patch