The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning is the coordinating agency for Mississippi’s eight publicly funded universities—Alcorn State, Delta State, Jackson State, Mississippi State, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi. It provides organization and oversight of the university system across policy, financial, legal, and other administrative concerns.
Conceived as an entity that would shield the state’s public institutions from the political influence that plagued its predecessors, the board held its first meeting on 18 May 1944. Past boards had also sought to mitigate the pernicious and consistent influence of Mississippi politics, but they had met with little success. The final act of political intervention leading to the creation of the present board occurred soon after the 1939 gubernatorial election, when Gov. Paul B. Johnson Sr. dismissed a number of faculty members and administrators at State Teachers College in Hattiesburg (now the University of Southern Mississippi). In response to this political intrusion into academia, the regional educational accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, placed the college on probation and threatened to rescind accreditation for the state’s other institutions of higher learning as well. The association also cautioned that it would remain watchful for further political intrusions into higher education in the state.
In response to this threat, a small group of Mississippians urged Johnson to consider creating a constitutional board of trustees that would insulate the universities from political influence. A paramount concern was that any change in the structure of a constitutionally created board would require amendment of the state’s constitution rather than simply legislation. The governor agreed, and the necessary constitutional amendment was introduced during the 1942 legislative session. It passed both houses of the Mississippi legislature and was ratified in 1943, becoming Article 8, sec. 213-A of the Mississippi Constitution. The constitutional language empowered the new board to elect the various institutional presidents and contract with faculty members and administrators as well as to terminate their employment “at any time for malfeasance, inefficiency, or contumacious conduct, but never for political reasons.”
The board is now comprised of one member from each congressional district, one member from each Mississippi Supreme Court district, and two members from the state at large. The board’s headquarters is located at the Education and Research Center of Mississippi in Jackson.
- Board of Trustees, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Policies and Bylaws (2008)
- James Allen Cabaniss, A History of the University of Mississippi (1949)
- Miss. Code Ann., sec. 37–4-3 (1986)
- Miss. Const., Art. VIII, sec. 213-A (1943)
- David G. Sansing, Making Haste Slowly: The Troubled History of Higher Education in Mississippi (1990)
- John W. Winkle, The Mississippi State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1993)