President of USM in Violation of Settlement
Friday afternoon the Mississippi College Board announced the settlement between Shelby Thames, the President of the University of Southern Mississippi, and the two professors he fired on March 5, Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer.
In return for 2 more years at USM, during which they will not be allowed to teach classes or have offices on campus, after which they will have to retire, Glamser and Stringer had to promise to refrain from further public criticism of the Thames administration.
They have kept their promise.
Fewer constraints were applied to Thames' post-settlement behavior, but he was required to refrain from derogatory comments about the two professors he had tried to fire. The following provision is numbered as it appears in the full text of the settlement:
"8. The parties agree to refrain from making public comments about this agreement until final approval by the Board. The parties agree not to make any public comments about this agreement designed to reflect negatively on the opposing party. The parties acknowledge and agree that the Hearing Officer will make certain detailed statements to the media regarding this agreement."
Scarcely was this settlement announced when Thames' personal spokesflack, Lisa Mader issued the following press release (courtesy of a contributor to the Fire Shelby message board):
Friday, April 30, 2004
For Immediate Release
Statement by President Shelby Thames
Regarding the Settlement Agreement with Drs. Glamser and Stringer
I appreciate the thoughtful consideration given to this difficult decision by Justice Anderson and the IHL Board. I wish this matter could have been resolved without going through this process, but the agreement reached Wednesday is in the best interest of Southern Miss.
I said from the beginning, that it was never my intention to cause financial harm to Drs. Glamser and Stringer, but the evidence provided to me warranted my initiating dismissal proceedings. This matter could not have been taken lightly because the issues in this case were very serious, as the settlement agreement confirms.
In the coming weeks and months, a debate need not occur to determine who"won" this matter. This was never about anyone"winning," but rather what was in the best interest of Southern Miss. We must keep in mind that Southern Miss is stronger than any one situation. We have the best students, the brightest faculty and staff, supportive alumni and the unlimited potential to make Southern Miss a world-class institution.
Cutting past the first and third paragraphs, which merely show that with staff assistance even Shelby Thames can work up some presidential blather, the second is obviously in violation of the settlement.
Thames further misrepresented the settlement to one newspaper:
"Under the terms of the agreement, the professors will not be reinstated or allowed to return to campus."
"I said from the beginning that it was never my intention to cause financial harm to Drs. Glamser and Stringer, but that it is in the best interest of the university that they be removed... Under the terms of the agreement, the professors will not be reinstated or allowed to return to campus."
Now it is up to the Mississippi College Board to notice the violations and penalize Thames for them. If the Board pretends nothing happened, everyone will know that the fix is in.
The majority of the College Board seems to have a time horizon measurable in nanoseconds. The Clintonesque speeches some of the Board members have made about"healing" at USM, while Thames and his henchcrew remain in power, and unresolved impasses abound, are ample proof of that. (The impasses are so deep that Thames will not even provide the USM Faculty Senate with an organizational chart of his own administration, or explain what money is being used to pay his Chief Hatchet Man, Jack Hanbury, who until his elevation to University Counsel last Friday was not listed as a state employee.) But even politicians who don't care a hoot whether an administrator is manifestly unable to manage, antagonizes nearly the entire faculty and large numbers of students, and routinely hires administrators with doubtful to no qualifications, still have some expectations:
At a minimum, the College Board must expect that Thames will not keep making them look bad. They must also expect not to have to keep intervening in USM affairs. The Board does not want to manage the day-to-day operations of USM; it sorely lacks the capability to do so, even if its other responsibilities didn't preclude taking that one on.
The problem for Thames and his supporters is that he cannot be expected to fulfill the Board's (woefully limited) expectations of him. He cannot bear to be seen as less than omnipotent. He will not refrain from shooting off his mouth, in front of reporters and editors who have stopped granting him the automatic deference that university presidents normally enjoy.
Thames has two years remaining on his contract. To people who are disappointed by the settlement, he may look bulletproof. But there is a way to stop him from putting every aspect of the university under the control of his cronies, from crushing the faculty, or from further alienating the students. The way to do it is to apply relentless pressure. For Thames will predictably respond to that pressure with ever more arbitrary actions and ever more foolish public statements. As the heat intensifies on Thames, conditions will get ugly. But if USM faculty, students, and sympathizers can keep Thames under pressure, he will become too great a load for the College Board to bear. The day will come when they give forth a great collective sigh and drop him.
And the prospects for both academic freedom and civilized standards of privacy on campus will be greatly enhanced if they do.
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melissa ellis whiting - 5/2/2004
Robert, please email me on my personal email melissaellisw@ aol.com