Board moves forward in search for university presidents

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
April 1, 2002
Bill Crawford of Meridian, president of the 12-member state College Board talked about several issues in a recent meeting with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The College Board, more formally called the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning, oversees Mississippi's eight public universities. Board members are appointed by the governor to serve 12-year terms.
Crawford's term expires in 2004.
The Meridian Star: What is the latest on the search for presidents at Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women and the University of Southern Mississippi?
Crawford: We have announced three finalists for MUW. We start that process (tonight) with a reception and will conclude hopefully no later than Friday morning and name a president at that time.
The week of April 7 we start in Hattiesburg with USM. We will complete that on Saturday and name a president by April 13.
The window is now open for applications and nominations for the presidency of Mississippi State. We hope to be able to do the first round of interviews of 10 or 12 of them in mid-May and we hope to go to go to campus at Starkville in mid- to late June.
The Meridian Star: How dire is the education budget outlook for Mississippi?
Crawford: It's pretty dire maybe. This fiscal year we're currently in, we had a cut in the beginning budget and we've had a couple of mid-year cuts. We've been able for the most part to absorb the cuts in terms of reducing commodity spending, reducing travel and not filling open positions.
If the proposed cut comes through, however, we will have to move into some layoffs.
This current fiscal year the Legislature found $34 million in bridge money one-time money not to ever be repeated that bridges the cuts from one year to the next and kind of gives you a year to get ready. The Legislature is hoping to be able to give us some bridge money for this year.
The hope is that the economy picks back up so that we make it up and don't really have to take all the cuts maybe by next year. We've heard a range of numbers possible for the bridge. Depending on whether there's a bridge or not and how much it is will determine how dire it is
The Meridian Star: What's that range of numbers for the bridge that you've heard?
Crawford: Nothing to $40 million. It depends on some of these things that they are doing coming true. One source could be paying corporate income taxes faster, which is a one-year kick of some amount of money. We could get some of that allocated to us.
The Meridian Star: What do you do beyond the state appropriations?
Crawford: Last year we raised tuition 15 percent. There is discussion going on right now about tuition. Everybody recognizes it's going to be very, very difficult to raise tuition substantially again this year.
How much can families afford in a limited period of time? In the last three years, tuition's gone up 30 percent. You get to a point where you have diminishing return from raising tuition and you start to make it impossible for some students to complete degrees and very difficult for others to go.
The (College) Board has not made a determination on that. We're obviously waiting to see what our circumstances are, but I do know opinions have been expressed indicating that a probability of something like a 15 percent increase are nil to slim.
But there is a possibility of some increase.
The Meridian Star: What effect does the state funding have on selection of new university presidents?
Crawford: It would be more significant except for the fact that every state is going through this. With all the candidates we've interviewed to date, we talk about it and they talk about how they're going through it where they are. But they do ask questions about how severe is it, what's the support for higher education in the Legislature, what's the outlook.
The Meridian Star: Is higher education a priority in Mississippi?
Crawford: Higher education is a priority in Mississippi. It is not the top priority. All of education has seen its percentage of the general fund budget go down over the last five years. Our funding went up, but not as much as the budget went up.
The funding priorities over the last several years primarily have been prisons. We've increased the number of beds (in prisons) of course we're under a court order. We increased our funding for Medicaid substantially. We increased our funding for mental health substantially. We made a commitment to (kindergarten through 12th grade) education with the teacher pay raise.
We've done very well with the Legislature, but we have obviously not been the top priority.
The Meridian Star: Has the issue of making the Gulf Coast campus of the University of Southern Mississippi a dual campus been resolved with the state Supreme Court ruling on the case?
Crawford: I don't believe it will be appealed. We're moving forward now with offering lower division classes at Gulf Park. What the board adopted originally is a pilot program. They may admit up to 150 students per year over a five-year period, up to a cap of 750 in the lower division classes.
After that five-year period, the (College) Board will assess what's going on. We'll see how the demand for it goes.
The ruling didn't just apply to the Gulf Coast, the College Board now has the authority to put four-year branches anywhere it wants to. There's no intent by this board to do anything else other than the Gulf Coast.
The Meridian Star: What is your expectation of the Ayers settlement?
Crawford: My expectation is that we will have eight institutions of higher learning someday, not five white and three black institutions. Quite frankly the economic future of the historically black institutions depends upon that.
Today more than 50 percent of the black students who attend universities go to historically white schools, so in economic terms they're drawing over 50 percent of the population formally served by the historically black institutions.
(Historically black universities are) losing market share. They are going to have to compete and attract white students in their region to remain viable institutions. What we've done with the Ayers case is give them financial capacity, programs and other resources to give them the opportunity to become multi-racial institutions.

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