By Julia Peoples
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy presented their findings earlier this month from a recently completed audit of higher education in Mississippi.
The report is broken into four major sections: academic strength, intellectual diversity, cost and effectiveness, and governance.
Ole Miss and all seven other public universities in the state do not require students to complete a course in either US history or government prior to graduation. None of the public universities in the state require an economics course, either.
Michael B. Poliakoff, the president of ACTA, said that “only about 18% of the 1,100 colleges and universities that we survey require a foundational course in American history or government, and we see that as a major deficit.”
The report also notes that when the Woodrow Wilson Foundation administered the U.S. Citizenship Test to 41,000 Americans, 69% of Mississippi respondents failed. Only Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana scored lower.
“We have an obligation to make sure the people who graduate who are going to be in leadership positions have the grasp that every citizen should have of economic forces,” Poliakoff said, “but only 3% of the colleges surveyed require a course in economics.”
Despite this, the report states that seven out of eight Mississippi schools failed to reach the national six-year graduation standard for public institutions. Only the University of Mississippi exceeded this standard.
The report also mentions recent lawsuits regarding bias response teams across the nation, and recommends that Ole Miss dismantle its Bias Incident Response Team. This team functions as “an educational, non-judicial team that provides members of the University of Mississippi community an opportunity to receive education, support, and appropriate resolution in response to bias-related incidents.”
“The sixth circuit really did make it clear. It was a split vote, but they certainly did make it clear that a biased response team has a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas,” Poliakoff said. “When we get to a point where students or professors are afraid that they are going to be investigated for raising these questions that are at the very core of America’s future – social and political questions – then we have really undercut the great strength of the university.”
Ole Miss states that the team “is not a disciplinary arm, BIRT addresses legal bias speech as an opportunity for education,” and “in instances where bias speech breaches the legal use of free speech or the student code of conduct, BIRT will work with the Judicial Council or UPD on coordinating educational intervention or restorative justice as needed.”
Cost and effectiveness
Tuition rates at the University of Mississippi have increased in the past decade, especially regarding out-of-state students.
In 2002, tuition for in-state students was $3,626 annually, whereas in 2019 it was $8,718. For out-of-state students, the cost has risen from $8,172 in 2002 to $24,990 in 2019.
Despite this, tuition rates throughout Mississippi are still significantly lower than most schools in the nation, and graduates of Ole Miss are defaulting on student loans at a rate of only 7.5%, as compared with the national average of around 10.1%.
While the cost of tuition is increasing steadily, the rate at which professors are paid has remained largely the same. In the ranks of professors (assistant, part-time, and full), only instructor’s salaries have increased significantly since 2012, and their salaries are the lowest at $47,393.
These salaries put the University of Mississippi slightly behind its self-selected peers, according to ACTA’s audit. The average professor at Ole Miss makes approximately $11,000 less than professors at schools with comparable data.
Salaries for senior executives, however, are quite large and growing. As of December 2019, the Chancellor of Ole Miss received a salary of $600,000, and the IHL Board and University of Mississippi Board have approved a salary of $800,000 for Chancellor Glenn Boyce.
According to the report, public university presidents with a doctoral degree across the nation received an average salary of $504,927, those holding a master’s degree received an average salary of $290,359, and those holding a bachelor’s degree received an average salary of $251,732.
The report examines three main types of governing structures within the United States: the consolidated board system, the coordinating board system, and the nested board system.
Mississippi has a consolidated board system—meaning one governing board, the IHL Board of Trustees—governs all eight of the public institutions in the state.
In a coordinating board system, each university has its own governing board, and a coordinating board exists with limited power at the state level. A nested board system involves shared responsibilities between individual university boards and a state board.
The report doesn’t necessarily recommend changing the university governance system in Mississippi, but it does suggest considering other options that may be more responsive.
In regards to the Chancellor search, the audit verified that the IHL Board followed a section within their bylaws that “gives the board the right to add candidates to the recruitment pool at any time without starting the process over, and the board has the discretion to forward these candidates to be reviewed by the Campus Search Advisory Committee.”
The report identified other areas of improvement for the IHL Board, including discussion and debate of issues. It stated that during the period from May 2017 to June 2019, the IHL Board voted on 500 issues, and only three of those votes were not unanimous.
“It really is an internal, cultural issue, and I think here the best antidote is a public that really encourages transparency and, indeed, more debate,” Poliakoff said. “I have seen this with other public university boards where there’s a feeling of, ‘Oh my, there’s going to be press in the room, so we really need to give them a unanimous vote.’ No, quite the opposite. It is a healthy side when people who are in positions of authority are able to discuss and debate with one another and then come to a decision.”
Poliakoff said the report is a good exercise on how to go from good to great.
“These are fine universities that do a great deal of service,” he said. “We’ve identified some places where we think there are issues, that if addressed, will make institutions even better.”
Poliakoff had several suggestions for Ole Miss specifically after reviewing the audit.
“I’d like to see every student have a foundational course in American history or government. The history of the state and the university is so rich in the context of America’s history. They really need to dig into that,” he said, “They need to adopt some statement of freedom of expression.”
In regards to intellectual diversity, he says, “They need to drop the bias response team before it comes into sort of a situation the University of Michigan found itself in. And not just out of fear of legal action but really as a commitment for the free exchange of ideas. I do think they want to be careful.”
“I say this again with humility and respect: when presidential salaries so outstrip the salaries of professors, it is not good for campus morale,” he said. “The school needs to take a long, hard look at that. This is to take nothing away from the president or his qualifications or anything else. But I have been both a faculty member and a vice president at a university. It is very important for professors to be recognized and to be rewarded at the core of the university.”
According to Poliakoff, other school systems that have adopted changes as a result of these reports, and in turn, improved their campus climates.