The University of Southern Mississippi: Still a Solid Mess
Just over a week ago the Mississippi State College Board made a half-hearted gesture to resolve the impasse at the University of Southern Mississippi. The institution plunged into crisis when President Shelby Thames decided to fire two tenured professors, Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer, in the middle of a semester. Their offense apparently consisted of revealing that one of his hand-picked administrative cronies, the Vice President for Development, had lied on her resume.
It now appears that the Board was indeed stalling for time when it asked the state Attorney General’s office to intervene in the internal hearings for Glamser and Stringer, who are still suspended, and still locked out of their offices.
Here are the latest developments. For these I’m indebted to the Fire Shelby site, which has not only kept track of all the media coverage of the USM crisis, but has done some serious independent research:
- Jim Keith is the outside counsel chosen by the Attorney General’s office to ensure the fairness of the hearings for Glamser and Stringer. But Keith’s firm, Adams and Reese, has represented Shelby Thames in past litigation involving USM. Even worse, one of Keith’s colleagues at Adams and Reese is currently representing Shelby Thames and his daughter Dana (who is the chair of the Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Ed department at USM...hmmm) in a case brought by Melissa Whiting, a former Ed faculty member who claims that she was improperly denied tenure.
- Angelina Dvorak, the Vice President who claimed to have been a tenured professor at the University of Kentucky while she was president of a junior college in another part of the state, appears to have boasted, in a 1994 email to a listserv, of pursuing a law degree in order to"pump my resume." Indeed, she claimed to be a faculty member at Michigan State while working there as a low-level administrator. In my experience, people who lie on their resume usually end up lying about more than one thing, so this lead is well worth pursuing.
- A pivotal seizure of power took place around the time that Shelby Thames became president. In Spring 2002, the USM Faculty Senate was asked to approve a"Technology Security Document" that contained a passage stating that the USM administration has the right to"seize University owned computers for any reason." The FS, trusting souls that they appear to have been, approved the document but requested a change in the wording of this provision. Of course, the wording wasn’t changed, and Thames soon found ways to take advantage of it: Glamser and Stringer’s computers were both seized.
- Four members of the College Board (which has a total membership of 12) will rotate off that body on April 14; the governor will soon be appointing their replacements. Knowledgeable sources believe that the new Board members are likely to be less sympathetically disposed toward Thames than their predecessors were. If this is true, it helps to explain why Thames wants Glamser and Stringer’s hearings done by April 9—and why they and their lawyer are in no such hurry. Final appeals in such cases are to the Board.
- Intensifying the media circus surrounding USM is the just-announced selection of Larry Eustachy as the new men’s basketball coach. Eustachy was last heard of in April 2003, when he was fired from his coaching position at Iowa State after admitting that he was an alcoholic. After his team played a game on the road, Eustachy was in the habit of hitting fraternity parties at the other university. There during the wee hours he exhibited a pattern of getting smashed, making loud negative comments about his team, and behaving obnoxiously toward divers female attendees. The decision to hire Eustachy is only tangentially related to the other things that Thames has done, and USM’s gamble on Eustachy could pay off over time, if he stays dry and refrains from making an ass of himself in public. But it can’t help in the short run.
Update (March 27, 9:48 PM)
It seems to have dawned on the Mississippi College Board that relying on a lawyer who has a conflict of interest to oversee the appeal hearings for Glamser and Stringer isn’t going to do the job. The Board will be meeting in executive session on Thursday, April 1. Hint: The quickest way to end the impasse is to remove Shelby Thames from office immediately…
Meanwhile, the portion of VP for Research Angie Dvorak’s vita that covers her past jobs and degrees can now be read on the Fire Shelby site. What got Glamser and Stringer in trouble was questioning her claim to be a tenured Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington while she was President of Ashland Junior College (1997-2000). The portions of her vita that cover 1990-94, when she was in an administrative position at Michigan State, and 1983-1990, when she seems to have been several places in Florida and Alabama all at once, are just as fishy, and need to be properly investigated. Unfortunately, it does not appear that anyone in the media has questioned her aggressively about her degrees and her job experience. It looks as though faculty members will once again have to do the grunt work and run the risk of being fired for daring the bring the subject up.
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Robert L. Campbell - 3/27/2004
Thank you for bringing this issue out. I can see that my "hmmm..." was overly understated...
During the special midyear pay increases, Dana Thames got the largest percentage raise of any faculty member. Given the controversy that has surrounded her performance as department chair, it does look like nepotism.
The department Web site for her department, Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, lists every instructor (including a couple of grad students who teach classes) as "Tenured Faculty." Maybe this just means they can all be fired at will.
Ralph E. Luker - 3/26/2004
Very tangentially, Thames's daughter, Dana, who you mention, was one of a very limited number of USM faculty members who benefitted from the unusual mid-year pay increases, which Thames boasted of, and which were wrung out of savings in administrative costs when the University was reorganized from 9 to 5 divisions.