The forced “voluntary resignation” of UNC System President Tom Ross without explanation and the obvious political vendetta against Gene Nichol may soon bring problems not foreseen by the Board of Governors. Mississippi offers an unhappy example.
In 1930, then-Gov. Theodore Bilbo, nearing the end of his second term, suddenly and without explanation dismissed the presidents of Mississippi’s three major universities, replacing them respectively by a Realtor, a press agent and a newly minted college graduate with only a B.A. degree. Boasting that this action had taken only three hours, Bilbo began replacing 179 other faculty members, including the dean of the Medical School at Ole Miss, replaced by a man who had “once had a course in dentistry.”
Bilbo managed to fire only 53 before his term ended (leaving his state with only $1,326.57 in its treasury but $11.5 million in debt), but the damage to the university system was swift, severe and long-lived. The American Medical Association canceled the accreditation of the state’s medical school, USDA canceled funding at the agricultural school at Mississippi State and graduates of the state’s public universities – their degrees no longer recognized by the national accrediting agency SACS – became essentially unemployable outside Mississippi.
C. J. Cain