MSU Presidential Search - Part 1

As many of you know, Mississippi State University is currently looking for a president to replace the retiring Dr. Charles Lee. To help educate MSU fans about the search process itself as well as to learn more about the people involved in the process, I interviewed Dr. Marty Wiseman, the Director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Professor of Political Science at Mississippi State University.

Dr. Wiseman (pictured) provided details covering all aspects of the search process, including the search process itself, the importance of the selection to MSU and its alumni and friends, information about the people who are rumored to be candidates, and the people who will be instrumental in the selection process for this very important position.

Because this is an interview packed with a lot of information that needs to be digested by all people that care about the future of Mississippi State University, I have chosen to post it in two parts. Part-1 includes the search process and the importance of the selection to MSU and its alumni and friends and the people who will have the ultimate say-so in who is selected to be the next president of Mississippi State University. Part-2, which will be posted Wednesday, will include information about the people that are rumored to be candidates.


Explain the Presidential Search Process this time around compared to the last search.

The search process will be somewhat different than people are accustomed to having seen. In the past, the universities have had fairly large committees that did a lot of work in vetting candidates and narrowing the list down. The funnel is going to be reversed a little bit in this process. The Board of Trustees of the Institute of Higher Learning (IHL) will have a five-member committee that will be the focal point of the search. The campus committee, which will be smaller in numbers than has been the case in the past, will be a clearinghouse, so to speak, to analyze the acceptability of those who have been nominated or who are being considered as president of Mississippi State. That is a crucial committee. The faculty has to live with him or her on a daily basis. But the greater work in selecting the president will be by the internal board committee as well as the strong input by the Commissioner of Higher Education, Tom Meredith. But in the end it will almost purely be an IHL Board decision, keeping in mind that the faculty committee would have deemed acceptable the names that make it to that point.

Someone will have to come up with those names. Who will do that?

An academic executive search firm, headed by Jan Greenwood, has been hired to surface those names. And that has become the custom. The reason for that is if someone is already a president of a university and it gets out that he or she is interested in another university, it will cause problems for that individual. That's why the process is so secretive within the confines of the board. And I'm sure, when the campus committee gets together within the next week or two, it will be emphasized that any names brought up be kept secret. Not only is that to protect the candidates' names, but also because when candidates' names became public, in many cases they immediately pull out to protect the job that they already have. That has become a real problem, so they will do everything they can to keep it a secret. Of course, we already know some names that are out there. And with some of them, it's not necessary they remain a secret. There's always going to be speculation, but we won't have a real way to know if they are actually on the list.

What happens once the list of names has been approved and it is given to Tom Meredith and the IHL Board Committee?

They will begin considering the credentials and the recommendations of each candidate. Things they will look at are three letters of recommendation, a resume' or an academic vita. Then they will whittle it down to a number they choose to interview.


How important is this selection to Mississippi State University and the alumni and friends of Mississippi State?

I want to emphasize this is a fair dose of Marty Wiseman's opinion after having been born with maroon diapers on and having lived that life for 54 years.

I would deem it more important than many appointments in the past because of the critical juncture we find ourselves due to the reworking of the IHL Chair of Command and the centralization of the administration into a single more powerful person.

We have for decades heard discussions, usually not instigated by Mississippi State people, of the need to have a single university system. Usually Mississippi State folks have been inclined to believe when you have such a combining and leveling affect, Mississippi State has to give up things that are important to us. Frankly, we have been less represented in positions of importance in decision-making. Whether it's true or not, it's been a fear that Mississippi State people have.

Recently, the board-the executive secretary and the chief executive officer relationship-has changed. In the past, the eight university presidents would report directly to the College Board with assistance in preparing material from the executive secretary. Whatever decisions were made in behalf of any of the universities were made by a full board vote. The board has changed things so that now the eight university presidents report to a single Commissioner. They have strengthened the role of the executive secretary significantly and changed the title to Commissioner. In reality, that Commissioner carries responsibilities that are more equivalent to a Chancellor of a university system. So, we have crept evermore closely to that single university system. And the first Commissioner under that system is Tom Meredith, who is former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Mississippi, former employee of the College Board, former Chancellor of the Alabama system and he's just come from his post as head of the Georgia system. He has a stellar career in higher education.

But back to that old fear that Mississippi State is being watered down under a single university system, that concern should be there. I think the reason that this is a presidency at the crossroads is because this is the first president who will come in and begin a career trying to find our way in this new approach to governance in higher education. And establishing Mississippi State's role in carving out enough autonomy for us to act as the People's University in this new arrangement is highly important. This needs to be a concern to all Mississippi State people. And I'm not speaking anti-Ole Miss. I think they have their own issues that they will have to carve out. But I'm concerned about Mississippi State.

It is very, very important that Mississippi State folks make it be known what their opinion is.

How can they do that?

They not only need to talk to each other, but to the (IHL) College Board members. It is important to Mississippi State for her people to be active and concerned and to express themselves. Don't succumb to suggestions that they should let this be confined to a couple of committees and the board because this is important to all Mississippi State people. We aren't known for being politically proactive. I don't think this should be viewed as a political activity as much as a point of concern for people who love their alma mater. Again, this is Marty Wiseman's opinion.


I would like to talk about the people who will be heavily involved in the search. First up is Tom Meredith, the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Tom Meredith is - and I will go ahead and label him - the new "super Commissioner" of Higher Education in Mississippi based on the job description as changed by the (IHL) board. Again, if you look at his resume, he has been the Vice Chancellor (for executive affairs) of the University of Mississippi, spent time working on the IHL staff and he's been a university president himself (at Western Kentucky University) as well as being the Chancellor of the Alabama system. He's in his mid-60's and is a highly qualified person. He came to Mississippi after a time as head of the Georgia system.

When you couple this new strengthen role of the Commissioner with Tom Meredith's credentials, you have created a lot of centralized power in that one office. It still takes a vote by the 12-member board, but Tom Meredith is the first of a very powerful Commissioner as compared to the executive secretaries in the past.

I've seen Mark Goodman's name mentioned in a newspaper. What is his role in the process?

Mark is the faculty senate president and has been influential as head of that faculty organization. He's on the faculty search committee chaired by Ruth Prescott that will vet the original list and deem the candidates either qualified or not qualified. In the past, that committee would narrow it down to a short list of four or five. They will review a list and throw out those that aren't qualified in their opinion. Then, they will send the long list to the (IHL) board. That will be the way that we have input at the university.

What is Ed Blakeslee role?

Ed Blakeslee is retired from Mississippi Power Company. He's located on the coast and is an MSU alumnus. He's the member of the (IHL) board who is chairing the search committee for a president.

Something that is important to know is Roy Klumb resigned about a month ago from the board, so we are now down to 11 members on the board. Haley Barbour has the opportunity to make a selection to that board, which would give him his 5th appointee to the board. Everybody is watching with keen interest to see who he appoints. For one, Mark and Rhonda Keenum are known quantities to Governor Barbour, so he knows the crucial search that is taking place right now. The question arises, will Governor Barbour replace Klumb for the last two+ years of his term with a like person, a Mississippi State graduate from the coast area? He has to appoint someone from the coast, I believe.

Jan Greenwood and her Florida consulting firm.

It has almost become the norm in a presidential search to use a third party executive search firm. They are used for a lot of reasons, secrecy as much as anything else. Four years ago they used a firm that did a lot of presidential executive searches. Jan Greenwood is an alternative to that one. Firms like that can go in and make the official notification and get the initial set of credentials in the pipeline and be fairly unobtrusive in doing it. Whereas, if the secretary at the University of Illinois for example receives a call from the Mississippi State University search committee, she's probably got it all over campus. Someone from a corporation knows how to surface candidates at this level without compromising their absolute need for confidentially.


How do we know that this search won't get bogged down like the last one did?

Commissioner Meredith has alluded to the last search and has said that he will do everything he can to make sure it doesn't happen again. But there are no guarantees. We heard so much about the search getting bogged down last time, but it was the Mississippi State affiliates that became fragmented in that search. The Ole Miss folks were ready to go where they saw consensus from the Mississippi State group. But they never saw consensus. As it turned out, it worked out well because President Lee has served well.

There is a pretty strong Ole Miss contingency on the (IHL) board, but I will say from observing the last search, they are appropriately deferential to the preferences of the Mississippi State people on the board. They will want the same consideration from others as they choose a Chancellor in the future.

That question leads me to something else that I would like to close with: The dynamics of everything that goes on outside of the board room - the rumor mill, the support that has built up among candidates within and without the Mississippi State family, and maybe even the "anti-sentiment" among those outside the Mississippi State family that don't want us to have a certain president is significant. All that is important. But you can't underestimate what happens when those doors close and those 12 members (of the IHL Board) sit down and select the president. That becomes an exercise in "group think" that takes on a life all its own. It will all boil down to one candidate coming up with seven votes.

Internet Links:

The IHL Board -

Contacting the IHL -

Dr. Thomas Meredith -

MSU Presidential Search Advisory Committee -

Commercial Dispatch (Columbus, MS) Article -

Daily Journal (Tupelo, MS) Article -

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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