Fleming's Future In Doubt?

Supporters of University of Southern Mississippi President Horace Fleming Jr. will meet Saturday to discuss the increasing calls for change in the school's leadership. The special meeting of the executive committee of the USM Foundation , the school's fund-raising arm, comes amid mounting criticism of Fleming.

The state College Board will decide July 19 whether to renew his four-year contract. Fleming has come under fire by some faculty critics regarding the handling of budget cuts at USM that have hit all Mississippi universities. Serving 64,000 students, the eight universities have been cut $65 million since fiscal year 2000 because of sluggish tax collections.

New Orleans lawyer Ira Middleberg, the USM Foundation president who confirmed Saturday's emergency meeting on the Hattiesburg campus, said he wants Fleming to remain in his post.

"It would be a mistake to dismiss Fleming after he launched a successful $100 million fund drive earlier this year,'' Middleberg said Thursday.

The fund drive has already reached the half-way mark. If Fleming leaves "there goes our campaign,'' said Middleberg, a USM alumnus.

Fleming, 57, a former Georgia educator who's led USM since July 1996 when he succeeded retired President Aubrey Lucas, is saying little for now about growing questions regarding his job status.

"I'm waiting for the review by the College Board,'' Fleming said Thursday from his home in Hattiesburg. "They will make that decision.''

A former administrator at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., Fleming's state salary is $150,000. He also receives a $50,000 salary supplement from the USM Foundation.

"We are going to evaluate him at the July meeting,'' said College Board member Ricki Garrett of Clinton.