Monday, March 23, 2015

Chancellor Jones and the IHL

Published in VC's Notes on March 23, 2015

Many of you have no doubt been following or at least have heard about last Friday's decision of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees not to renew the contract of University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones past Sept. 14, 2015.

While many of us, including myself, have the utmost respect and admiration for Dr. Jones and may find it hard to understand this decision, it is important for us to recognize that the IHL is our governing board, it is their prerogative to make this decision, and it is paramount for us to preserve an amicable relationship with the board and with the commissioner of higher education going forward.

However, I do want to discuss one aspect of this situation that relates directly to the Medical Center.  A statement released by the IHL on Saturday and picked up by the press cited financial issues at UMMC as the driving concern for the decision regarding the Chancellor.  Unfortunately, I'm concerned this communication may have inadvertently left the false impression that the Medical Center is in an uncertain financial position.  It is not.

During the last few years the board has expressed concerns about a number of financial and business issues at the Medical Center.  I would broadly characterize these issues as our Medical Center leadership grappling with a very volatile environment while attempting to modernize the business systems of a rapidly growing enterprise.  The issues have been challenging and our handling of them has not always been perfect, something that can no doubt be said of every other academic medical center in the country.  Yet we have made steady improvement in every area that has been of concern to our board.

One notable example is our management of contracts.  We established a contracts management office in 2012, when we were struggling with the transition from a decentralized, paper-based contracts system to a centralized, electronic system.  Since then independent reviews of our contracting processes, requested by the board, have been satisfactorily completed with the full cooperation of Medical Center leadership.  Many of you know that our contracts management process is still not where it needs to be, but we are light years ahead of where we were five years ago. 

Concerns and inquiries of this type by the board are part of its fiduciary responsibility and within its oversight purview.  With this in mind, we have worked diligently to build a responsive, mutually respectful relationship with the board and will continue to do so in the future.

But I want to emphasize that our finances are strong.  We have produced operating margins - what would be termed a profit in the private sector - in nine of the last 10 years.  Our bond rating is strong and we have invested over $100 million in technology to modernize our business and clinical operations.

During this same time frame UMMC has been hugely successful by any measure, including financial stability, enrollment growth, campus expansion, quality of educational offerings, clinical and research advances and affiliations, and philanthropic support.  In its 60-year history in Jackson, the Medical Center has probably never enjoyed as strong a national reputation among its peers as it has right now.

All of this success rests on you and the professional work you do every day to make us a better, stronger, more caring organization.

I expect this topic to continue to be a matter of public discussion.  You certainly are welcome to have your own opinion about it.  But let's keep our focus on the work at hand, making a difference for every person in our state on our journey to A Healthier Mississippi.



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