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Friday, March 27, 2015

The Chancellor and the IHL: What Have We Learned?

Published in VC's Notes on March 27, 2015

The Chancellor and the IHL:Â Some Weekend Takeaways

I'm going to begin by assuming you've been following the controversy over the non-renewal of Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones' contract. Â And you know that this issue has still not been resolved but there do seem to be some signs that it will get settled in the next few days.

I can truly say without reservation, I'll be glad when this is over. Â This experience, however, has given me the opportunity to reflect on some things that I either learned or was reminded of in the span of one short week. Here are my takeaways.

Our business practices, and especially our management of contracts, which were cited by the IHL board as the reason for their decision on Dr. Jones, are far stronger than they were five years ago. Â They are not perfect, but many improvements have been made and will continue to be made. Â

Last September, we began installing the contracts management module for the Lawson system. Â Just over a week ago, we completed our first purchase order. Â This is going to be a game changer for our contracts administration team and all of you who process contracts at UMMC. Â

Yes, it took longer than we would have liked to implement this software. Â But the extra time we took to allow the bugs to get worked out of the original software and to thoroughly investigate alternative products will save us money, time and aggravation in the long run. Â

Stay tuned - more improvements are coming as we continue to optimize the technology we have invested in and as we make large and aggressive strides in the coming months to standardize our practices.Â

We need to continue to work very hard on our relationship with the IHL board and the new commissioner of higher education.  Compared to the other public campuses under their governance, UMMC is a very different animal—a very large animal—representing nearly 40 percent of the annual IHL budget.  I think we've made progress over the last year on better communication and understanding but the evidence suggests we still have work to do, and this is my top external priority going forward.

We are financially stable and stronger, in fact, than in prior years. Â This does not mean we can relax in our efforts to grow revenue and control expense. Â It does not mean that we have enough money for all we need to do. Â We must stay the course and do the hard work to be able to invest appropriately to make our strategic plan a reality.

The world of media has changed, in a way that I don't think I fully appreciated before this episode. Â I don't think there's any question that social media played a huge factor in getting us to this point. Â The old days when something happens and you might hear about it on the news 6, 12 or even 24 hours later are long gone. Â Now it's more like 6 minutes.Â

Ole Miss, although out of sight and occasionally out of mind, is not only our parent campus to the north but our natural ally when the pressure is on.  From time to time there's talk about separating our two campuses and treating UMMC as a distinct institution.  It is critical that we remain part of the University of Mississippi.  We're stronger together.

Dr. Jimmy Keeton, even though he has transitioned to part-time service, has a passion for UMMC and its missions that few can match. Â I don't believe I've heard anyone articulate the transformation that UMMC has undergone in the last 12 years better than Dr. Keeton did to a room full of media at the height of this controversy. Â Not only have we grown dramatically in every measure possible, but we've changed our systems, brought in new leaders and, perhaps most important, changed the way we think about and value our role as an academic medical center. Â Dr. Jones and Dr. Keeton are the principal authors of these changes.Â

And finally I learned, in a new and deeper way, that Chancellor Jones is as fine a public servant as we have in Mississippi. Â And even though he has his detractors, the respect and regard people have for him runs deep and wide. Â He has handled this whole episode with such grace, humility and magnanimity. Â I'm so hopeful that we will continue to be able to rely on his wisdom and strength for the foreseeable future. Â Every one of us will be beneficiaries. Â

I'm looking forward to putting this all behind us and focusing on the future.  We have much unfinished business and a long road ahead to A Healthier Mississippi.

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