JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi's College Board is preparing to offer a two-year contract extension to the University of Mississippi chancellor whom they had previously refused to retain, individuals with knowledge of the negotiations said Thursday.
Discussions to fine-tune the agreement with Chancellor Dan Jones were ongoing, according to the individuals, who said they were informed by people directly involved in negotiations. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations publicly.
It's unclear how far apart the sides remain, or how long it might take to reach a resolution. A vote of the full 12-member board would be required to approve a new contract, and the board has yet to schedule a meeting.
Under the proposal, Jones would make a public apology to trustees, who would offer a two-year extension instead of the usual four-year contract, the individuals said. Jones was initially hired on a four-year contract in 2009 and received a new four-year agreement two years later in 2011, said College Board spokeswoman Caron Blanton.
The 12-member board has faced a storm of opposition since deciding last week to cut ties with Jones, whose current employment agreement is set to expire in September. The board said it had only one reason for not renewing Jones' contract: They said they've worried for years about the way he was managing the contracts and finances of the $1.6 billion University of Mississippi Medical Center, which is home to a hospital and medical school in Jackson, about 150 miles away from Oxford.
The hospital complex, which has 10,000 employees, has a much larger budget than the mother campus. Jones, a 66-year-old physician, ran the medical center before being named chancellor in 2009. He said he had made improvements, pointing to a contracting office he implemented in 2012 that he said stemmed many problems, including large contracts signed without required approval from trustees.
Agreeing to keep Jones on under any conditions is a big step for the board, but reflects the intense pressure that has mounted. Some lawmakers have threatened a radical overhaul of the College Board, which oversees all of Mississippi's eight public universities.
Talks, including some mediated by former Gov. William Winter, began soon after the board's decision became public. Winter said that he had made phone calls to the parties Wednesday, but was not at the heart of Thursday's talks.
"I know they're working on things," he said.
Jones declined to comment Wednesday evening, but said he hoped to have something to say soon. He didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday. Neither did incoming trustee President Alan Perry.
More than 2,000 people rallied to support Jones in Oxford on Wednesday. Supporters cited the school's record enrollment and fund-raising, as well as Jones' sensitivity to racial issues at Ole Miss, which remains haunted by the violent insurrection that accompanied its integration under the watch of federal marshals in 1962.
Top donors and alumni including author John Grisham, football star Archie Manning and former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale have rallied to Jones' defense. One foundation has threatened to withhold a $20 million donation. Another top donor, the Bower Foundation, announced its support for Jones on Thursday. Bower, a public-health promotion group that has given $9 million to UMMC, said it was a "step backward" to get rid of Jones.