Two organizations affiliated with the University of Southern Mississippi took an official stand Saturday on who they feel should lead the university for the next four years.
Gene Warr of Coast 21 told members of the media at a press conference in Hattiesburg on Saturday that his support for the expansion of USM Gulf Coast is what has put Dr. Horace Fleming's job as president in jeopardy. If Fleming goes,Warr says so does the hope of freshman and sophomore enrollment.
"I can't imagine another president coming and taking up that banner at that point to move forward with the issue if he knows that the outgoing president was just removed for because of being part of that issue," Warr said. "So I think it's directly and very strongly a part of the Gulf Coast issue."
While the Alumni Association stopped short of an endorsement, members did urge the Board of Trustees to treat the evaluation process with dignity and respect. Some members say they believe it's budget cuts, faculty reductions and Flemming's no nonsense style that has ruffled some feathers.
"Dr. Fleming is a very forceful, very outspoken man, which is exactly what we need in a good college president," foundation member Dr. Ben Carmichael said. "By him doing so, and in making his statements, he may have stepped on some toes inadvertently, but in order to drive this university forward you have to do that."
"Certain individuals, and there's a small group of individuals, who have decided it is our best interest, and your best interest that Horace Fleming be removed as president of this university," said Ira Middleberg, Foundation President. "They are doing us a favor. They are making a decision about what is best for us."
Foundation members say now is not the best time for a change in leadership when USM is in the middle of a $100 million dollar fundraising campaign to offset state budget cuts.
Lamar Reynolds, a Foundation Board member said "There would be apprehension among those involved because of changes being made, and that would be true even if the president were simply leaving because he was retiring from the job."
In the end, everyone says the thing they want most is for the IHL to do what is best for the university.
"I believe that the IHL board will give him very fair treatment," Alumni Association President Don Benefield said. "He's a very fine man and has done great things for our university, and he's a friend of mine."
Some students at USM have organized a letter campaign in support of President Fleming. The Student Government Association is planning to hold a press conference on it's position in the few weeks