Former Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson might help to calm a storm that has raged at the University of Southern Mississippi for weeks: protesting students, unhappy instructors, flying allegations, proclamations of innocence, resignation demands.
The state College Board said it must remain a concerned, but impartial, observer for the role it would play later, but board members asked their legal counsel, Attorney General Jim Hood, for help.
On April 1, the board voted to accept Hood's recommendations to address the ongoing issue of "employment actions" taken against professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer by USM President Shelby Thames. Hood told the press it would be a fair procedure.
The agreement outlines the procedure: Anderson will be the hearing officer. The hearing will be held on USM's campus April 28 and 29. Anderson will decide the form and content of the hearing, including whether it will be open or closed. Before the hearing, USM must provide the professors reasons for their proposed terminations, and they must respond to USM's reasons. After the hearing, the University Advisory Committee and Thames may each make a written recommendation to Anderson, who will then make a decision. The College Board will then make a final determination based on Anderson's decision and any written recommendations.
The dam broke when Thames began proceedings earlier this year to fire Glamser, a sociology professor and Stringer, an English professor. The professors allegedly misused computers and phones to check into what they believed was a misrepresentation on the resume of Angie Dvorak, vice president of research. Dvorak and USM officials have denied that she misrepresented herself. The professors say they have done nothing wrong. And Thames has said that he did not lightly initiate proceedings to fire them, that the matter has been thoroughly investigated and when details come out, it will be clear that his actions are justified.
Hundreds of students rallied behind Glamser and Stringer, and the Faculty Senate passed a no-confidence vote against Thames. But some students and faculty say Thames has managed USM in a heavy-handed fashion—and that only his resignation or removal will restore the university. "In my opinion, there is no way he can reconcile with the faculty after a no-confidence vote like that," Dr. Darlys Alford, a psychology professor at Southern's Gulf Coast campus, said at the College Board's March 18 meeting. "This is just the last thing on a long list of things that make it impossible for this university to function the way an institution of higher learning should function."