Glenn Boyce, who was named chancellor of the University of Mississippi on Friday, sat down with Mississippi Today about an hour after his hire was announced to discuss pressing issues facing the university.
In part because Boyce was not vetted by university stakeholders and because the Institutions of Higher Learning’s board of trustees shortened their own chancellor search policy, his hire has drawn broad criticism as many Mississippians are gripped with questions about transparency, political power and cronyism.
The 30-minute interview with Boyce, conducted less than an hour after he was officially announced as chancellor on Friday, has been edited for clarity and length.
Mississippi Today: There’s a sentiment after the hiring process played out the way it did that you are too close to the IHL board and you could be a pawn for certain board members who haven’t liked decisions made by previous chancellors. Do you see yourself being that kind of leader?
Boyce: I don’t see myself being that kind of leader anywhere. I’ve never been that kind of leader. I’m incredibly strong and independently minded about my leadership. My relationships that I have with the board won’t be a negative for this university. That will be a positive. I will use that, hopefully, to help expand what we do.
In particular, keep in mind that our medical center has an enormous amount of projects and stuff going on with high-level buildings, research and all the things that they need. We need a (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) building here terribly. These type of things are the things at the end of the day that I’ll need IHL approval on. So I think (with) those relationships, they’re going to trust me. And I think that’s going to be a benefit for this school.
After the news of your hire broke, the response at least on social media was swift. There was some positive response, but there was a real lot of negative response – maybe not necessarily about you, but about the process. What’s it like for you to see that response?
There’s no question it’s difficult. On the other hand, candidly, I see it as a challenge. I’m looking forward to meeting with the students and showing them just how much I care about them – just how student-centered I am. I can understand some of their concerns, and I can understand their right to express themselves. However, I think it’s very important that (the) right to express yourself, at some point, has to show civil respect for the venues and processes in place.
There’s clearly a lot of division among the university’s students, faculty and alumni right now. How would you define the current state of affairs at the University of Mississippi?
Certainly right now we’re in a process where we need unification. Now please understand that unification means different things to different people in a higher ed campus. It’s so complex. There’s so many constituents. And each constituent has a different agenda. And so right now, I think we’ve got a lot of work to do. What some people don’t realize is that work has to be done constituent base by constituent base. This group wants this, this is how they engage the institution, but can we give them that and can the fabric and culture of the institution enhance it or take it away from them? So there’s a lot of unification that has to take place at the end of the day, and that’s what people are concerned about, especially through the alumni base.
Now, I would tell you this: I think it’s incredibly important that we tell who we are today, and we are an amazing diversity that I think has a great story every day, and I think we’re building on that story every day. However, I’m not sure people know what that narrative is or what that story is. I’m not saying anything about people responsible for that, please understand that, but I think there’s sometimes a lot of misconception. One of the efforts I’m going to have as chancellor is to try to build the communication between the constituent bases to a level it’s never seen before. That’s how you unify people. That’s what’s got to be done.
The last three permanent chancellors focused a great deal on diversity and inclusion. I haven’t heard you talk about that yet. Will that be a focus of yours as chancellor?
It will be, OK? But let me explain to you that I may have a different view of it than others do. Will we work very, very hard to recruit students of all races? Oh yes. No doubt. Will we work very, very hard to ensure that every student here is embraced in fairness, every student here has the opportunity to access the institution as deeply as they want. What I try to tell students all the time is don’t just come and go to class. There’s so much more that you can be accessing here, there’s so much more to this place, and it will help you grow exponentially and faster and it will help advance your career. And so I want that for every single student.
Now, having said that, I would also suggest to you that it’s also about diversity in our faculty ranks, in our administrative ranks. It’s also about that. You see, I take diversity as a very large picture. I ask myself: Are we as diverse and appropriate as we should be? If not, what are we going to do about it? So I’m going to be working on it, doing right for the future will be part of my work.
Minority student enrollment has gone down several years in a row. Do you have a plan to address that right out of the gate?
I don’t have a plan yet. I need to see what the university and enrollment management team is doing. But I will tell you this: We have a lot more minority students graduating from high school, a much larger percent than we’ve had throughout our history. That’s an incredibly important group of students to pursue. So the answer is: we will be pursuing that. It’s my belief that group of students will escalate high school graduation rates higher and higher. That’s a very important group, and we need to go after that group and we will.
A lot of recruiting in recent years has been focused on out-of-state students. Do you envision yourself wanting to reach out to more Mississippi students or continue to strike a higher out-of-state balance?
I was an out-of-state student. We will continue our pathway to recruiting out-of-state students the way we have, especially in our alumni who live out of state. But my focus, and where I’ll be driving the enrollment management team, is going to be in state. We’re going to go after our in-state students perhaps a little harder than we have in the past. I’m going to be very dedicated to being visible around the state and doing all I can do to assist their efforts. It’s incredibly important for the students.
In early November, one of the big things that came up in faculty listening sessions was their desire for a leader who respects academic freedom. That direct expression came shortly after the IHL board’s decision to grant sociology professor James Thomas tenure, even after five IHL board members voted against granting it. Do you think Thomas should have been granted tenure, and what are your general views on academic freedom?
I really can’t comment on that other than to say he was awarded tenure. I don’t know the processes here he went through. I know the university felt very strongly that he was deserving of (tenure), they presented their case and he was awarded it.
I am a huge believer in free speech. I’m an even bigger believer in academic free speech. I’ll give you an example. Let’s start with the concept of research. Sometimes faculty members do research, which I believe in deeply. I was too busy leading in my life to do research. I couldn’t do a lot of scholarly work because I had too much governing responsibilities all throughout my career. I always valued it and cherished it in regards of what the outcomes were and could it make a difference.
It’s my belief that if you have effective research and it says something negative about your institution, as long as it’s based on solid research, I absolutely will support that research. Now the message may not be something I want to hear, but it’s something I will take to light and say maybe we need to look into this because it looks solid.
I’m a believer that civil discourse and the way we converse with each other and the way we spend our lives with each other needs to be one of due respect. I understand that emotions get out of control and we say things we shouldn’t and do things we shouldn’t do. But I’m an enormous believer that if you want to drive your point home, drive your point home. But I don’t think you drive your point home in manners that are disrespectful or meant to intimidate. I realize that maybe that’s old fashioned. But given where we are in America today, candidly, given how that seems to be rushing toward the norm, I don’t think that’s a positive thing to rush toward the norm. And so yes, that draws me to pause and that type of situation creates concern for me. That’s why we have a creed.
Previous university administrators affirmed the votes of students, faculty, staff and graduate students to move the Confederate monument from the center of campus to the on-campus Confederate cemetery. It’s now, of course, before the Department of Archives and History, and if approved there, the IHL board will have to vote on it. Do you plan to step in and stop that process before it goes to the IHL board for a vote?
I don’t see myself stepping into that process right now. That process has already been started, and I will leave that process to run its course. I’ll say this about the monument, however: If all the powers that be at this point in time decide that monument needs to be moved — as long as it’s moved with the proper reverence, proper respect that is due any monument in any place in the country. It’s the age that some of our monuments are. What I’ve heard (from others) was that if we have to move it, I won’t like it but I can live with it.
Sometimes the way you do things is much more important than actually doing them, and I’m kind of sitting there waiting to see what needs to be done. I know it was contextualized twice, and I believed in that contextualization process, by the way. I thought it was excellent. It was written up in several publications around the world. I thought the university did an excellent job with all of that. I don’t think that contextualization report has been completed at this stage. So I plan on digging into that and seeing where we are with that and seeing if we can complete that report.
Given the general Civil War symbolism on campus – building names, nicknames – and given the importance that this university has played in a lot of good and bad moments in history, do you think there’s work to be done still to reckon with all that?
I won’t be able to answer that until I’ve been here a while, until I’ve talked to students, faculty and leaders. Just to be clear, I will tell you: My focus will be laser-like telling people who we are today and telling people what our vision is for our future and their students’ future if they come here. What I mean by who we are today is very simple: Things happen around the country, it comes slingshotting back here and I say, “Wait a second, that’s not our students. That’s not our faculty. That isn’t us.” So why are we being asked to even address it? That is of concern to me because I want people to be certain about what that university is.
Many would say the chief role of a chancellor is fundraising. Three years in a row, annual giving to the university has gone down. What is your fundraising approach, particularly right now with such divide among alumni?
That’s something I did formally as a president when I was at the community college level. I launched the largest campaign in our school’s history back then. I’ve spent considerable time at this. While it’s much smaller figures involved, it’s still the same basic attack. Fundraising is a challenge. You have to set the table. You have to know when to ask. There’s an awful lot to fundraising that people don’t realize. You have to talk to people and those people have to be convinced that where their money’s going (will) make a difference. They have to be shown exactly how it’s going to be making a difference. Having said all that, I enjoy fundraising. I enjoy being out there and meeting people. Unfortunately, it adds a little bit of a weight to me, but I enjoy very much explaining who we are, what we need. I also enjoy trying to find out what (a prospective donor’s) particular interest is and seeing if I can inspire a passion.
The university is without a permanent athletics director. What is your relationship with Ole Miss athletics, and what do you perceive to be the short and long term future of Ole Miss athletics?
This is the backdrop to this: I’m a 14-year-old kid, and I’m coming out of middle school and going into ninth grade. My guidance counselor makes my schedule with my mom. I’m a first-generation college student. My parents knew nothing about college. Very poor background, etcetera. So what happens is I come out of there and my schedule has a pathway of just going to the labor force. My coach, who’s standing in the hallway waiting, sees that schedule and says, “I’m going back in there with you.” All of a sudden, I’m a university track student because they recognized the athletic ability I had at that age, and they determined that they were going to make a difference in my life and athletics was going to carry me. I never would’ve went to college without athletics. I never, ever would be sitting here talking with you.
I put that just for the context: Nobody’s more passionate about athletics than I am. Having said that, the challenges of winning in the SEC are enormous and are complex. In order to compete, you have to raise money. In order to raise money, you have to have an athletic director that can go out there and can tell the story, can inspire people to give. And by the way, we need an athletic director who is futuristic in their thinking. There are things coming down the pipe in NCAA athletics that people need to start prepping for. I don’t think they realize it. They need to start following what’s going on in California because it’s going to make an enormous difference in whether we can compete or not.
Both us and our brethren down there at Mississippi State. It’s a big deal. Having said that, I need an A.D. who’s thinking about all of this, as well as evaluating the programs. I would close by saying that nothing’s more important to me than compliance. I need an A.D. who understands all the complexities and the money involved in order to compete. And I need coaches who are absolutely committed to athletes’ success. And honestly, I like to win. It’s just the way I’m built.
And one last thing: I want to move the students out of the sun for those 11 o’clock and 2 o’clock football games.