MSU Presidential Search To Resume In December

The search for a new president at Mississippi State University is expected to resume in December after the completion of other national high-profile college presidential searches. The College Board called off its first MSU presidential search in July when it could not agree on a list of top candidates.

Higher Education Commissioner Tom Layzell said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press staff in Jackson that the College Board wants to hold more meetings with the campus advisory committee.

"We want to go talk to the campus advisory committee and revisit the search process with them and get some thoughts on it,'' Layzell said.

"It was a sense that the search wasn't gelling like we wanted to see it gel. We thought it was better to stop and start it over again and try to get people to develop a more solid consensus on what we are looking for in the search process,'' he said.

There was some confusion as to what qualities and qualifications the next MSU president needs to move the university forward, Layzell said.

MSU is being led by interim President Charles Lee, who replaced Mack Portera in January. Portera left Mississippi State to become chancellor of the University of Alabama system.

There have been rumors circulating that there was a conflict between the faculty and some of major alumni donors over what kind of leader is best for MSU. Layzell would not confirm the rumors.

"There is probably all kinds of disagreements on that,'' he said. "I am not going to say it was this group versus that group. As you get involved in these things you have a sense of when it's coming together and when it isn't and there's probably a lot of different reasons this wasn't coming together.''

Board members have not disclosed the names of the presidential candidates interviewed. Layzell did not reveal any names on Tuesday. He did say that several universities across the country are searching for new leaders, including Oklahoma State University, Cornell University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Louisville.

"There are a lot of major searches going on... that should be coming to a closure in early winter, so it would be a good time to start up again,'' he said. "In our view it would have been a mistake to move ahead and just hope for the best.''

Layzell would not say if candidates for the Mississippi State presidency are also candidates at other schools with vacancies. He said it is not necessary for the College Board to vote unanimously for a candidate in order for the presidential post to be filled.

"In fact, we didn't get it when Mack (Portera) was hired... and it wasn't unanimous when I was hired. So it's not unusual when you don't get an unanimous vote,'' Layzell said.

The first MSU presidential search cost $91,321. Layzell said the state College Board does not expect the second search to cost much more.

"We've been spending $100,000 to $125,000 on searchers. Retainers for search firms usually run around $75,000 and the rest are expenses with a big part of it travel expenses,'' Layzell said. "The search firm is not charging us any additional retainer. There will be some additional expenses on travel, but when it is all said and done it should be in our ballpark.''