Second Vote of No Confidence under Consideration at USM
Among the few things that can break through the media silence that now surrounds the University of Southern Mississippi is a good old-fashioned vote of no confidence.
Yesterday the USM Faculty Senate began considering a motion of no confidence in President Shelby F. Thames. If it passes, it will be the second in less than 12 months.
The meeting ended without a vote on the resolution. So the matter will be taken up again at a further special meeting on Wednesday February 2nd.
According to the story with a welcome byline that appeared in today's Hattiesburg American, Faculty Senator Bill Scarborough has laid out 19 different indicators of Thamesian mismanagement from the last year alone. So debate on the resolution and possible amendments could take a while.
This year's edition of the USM Faculty Senate got off to a horrible start back in June, when it let itself be buffaloed into declaring that Vice President for Research Angie Dvorak had not actually misrepresented herself on her vita. A Faculty Senate committee declared that she had just followed"professional resume" practices instead of"academic resume" practices. (I doubt that most professionals, or most potential employers of professionals, would appreciate the implications.) Fortunately, Angie Dvorak was pushed out of the Vice-Presidential position shortly afterward, finally making her exit from the USM payroll at the end of the year. (In the aforelinked post, I incorrectly concluded that the Faculty Senate leadership had agreed to the compromise in return for an understanding that Angie Dvorak would be leaving USM. Some months later, a knowledgeable source told me that there was no such deal. The best that can be said about the entire mess: the Senate leadership was being incredibly naive about the nature and character of the Thames regime and its top administrators.)
From that point until well into Fall 2004, most of the public challenges to Thames and his immediate underlings came from a few representatives on the President's Council, not from the Faculty Senate. But the Senate redeemed itself with a hard-hitting response to the"Gulf Coast Incident" of October 12, in which Thames' chief enforcer, Ken Malone, invaded a class on the Gulf Park campus to interrogate students about their professor's comments concerning Malone's own plans to convert Gulf Park into a center for online courses. The Faculty Senate has also come up with a coherent policy on post-tenure review, which for several years has been a bone of contention between the state universities in Mississippi and the IHL Board.
Let's hope, then, that the USM Faculty Senate has the fortitude to issue a cogent resolution of no confidence in Shelby Thames. And that the Senate will follow up, in a timely fashion, with resolutions of no confidence in his key remaining underlings, Ken Malone and Gregg Lassen, and his most vocal backer on the IHL Board, Roy Klumb. Whatever the IHL Board's motives for putting Thames in office, flagrant mismanagement does not matter to a majority of the Board members. Even being lied to, on matters related to accreditation, has not motivated 7 or more of the trustees to remove him from office. Only if Thames becomes too hot to handle because of unending adverse publicity will the Board ever drop him.
The Hattiesburg American story gives us another priceless quotation from the man whose verbal productivity never ceases:
Asked what might be at the core of faculty members' criticisms, Thames said he didn't know. Instead he urged faculty members to consider if they are better off now - if they make more money - than before he was named president in April 2002.
"If they would just ask those questions then I think they're going to find out they're better off than they were three years ago," Thames said.
The raises that those professors who remain at USM have received over the last two and a half years are not enough, in most cases, to put them ahead after deducting inflation and the cost of health insurance. And even if the professors were taking home more money--would it compensate for administrative arbitrariness, plummeting academic reputation, threatened loss of accreditation, crumbling infrastructure, departmental supply budgets dwindling to $0, and a library that can no longer afford to buy a single new book?
As it happens, the first op-ed since January 9th on a USM-related subject has appeared in today's Clarion-Ledger. Written by Bill Gunther, a USM Professor of Economics, it reads like a standard pitch for higher education as a bringer of economic benefits to the state of Mississippi, published at a time when the state legislature is about to cut appropriations to state universities another 5 to 10%. As such, it makes predictable arguments, which readers of this blog will not be astonished to learn have a few holes in them.
But Gunther does seem to have a second, covert message, which can be inferred from his title ("Higher education is economic development") and from his central example: students who have graduated with USM degrees in Business. Would the op-ed have been printed if the editorial page editor had detected the implied slam at Shelby Thames and Ken Malone's Economic Development program? In any event, what was lost on the editorial page editor will surely sail past 99.9% of the paper's general readership.
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