I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Chancellor Jones writes and asks for civility but possibly asks to end debate

This morning, the email below from Chancellor Dan Jones went out to a large number of Ole Miss folks.

I am ambivalent about it.  I agree with what he says about anonymous attacks and threats.  On the other hand, there is no doubt that Pete Boone’s position makes him a public figure in Mississippi.  Just in the sense of operating an enterprise with a budget of the size of the athletic department, he operates one of the largest public institutions in North Mississippi.  There is obviously a place for public debate about how that job is being performed.  The letter closes by saying:

I regularly review the performance of all those who report to me, including Mr. Boone. But I cannot and will not engage in any sort of review in response to a public campaign to force his removal.

A debate worthy of attention is about who we are as a university family. Will we remain civil, reasonable people?

I agree that any discussion about this should be civil and should not involve improper threats (if by “threats” the email means language like, “Improve things or I will withdraw support,” that is not an improper threat).  I don’t like how ugly this sort of discussion gets.  But I don’t agree with apparent implications in this email that public debate about this public institution is somehow wrong, and I hope it doesn’t mean that the response is to dig in deeper rather than consider what might need to be changed.

The full email is below the fold.

Dear Ole Miss Family,

The Ole Miss Creed begins: “The University of Mississippi is a community of learning dedicated to nurturing excellence in intellectual inquiry and personal character in an open and diverse environment. As a voluntary member of this community, I believe in respect for the dignity of each person; I believe in fairness and civility.”

These words say a lot about who we are as a university family. They establish that the excellence we seek in all aspects of university life rests on respect, dignity, fairness, and civility, and that we come together as a community. Further, we commit to being open with one another and valuing personal character. These words represent important Ole Miss values. Robust debates and disagreements always have taken place at institutions such as Ole Miss. The current controversy in athletics has gone beyond that.

Many are aware of anonymous, malicious and public attacks on athletics director Pete Boone. The Ole Miss family may not be aware, however, that as a part of this orchestrated campaign, I have received threats, promising that if I do not remove Pete Boone, “It is going to get real ugly,” and threatening to expand the attacks to other athletics employees.

Friends, supporters and the media have asked how I will react to this anonymous and vicious pressure. The short answer is that I will not react.

To maintain accreditation, the university must remain “free from undue influence from political, religious and other external bodies.” I would be less than the chancellor Ole Miss needs if I reacted to these polarizing tactics employed by anonymous critics. To do so would not only threaten the university’s accreditation, but it also would impair future university leaders by encouraging others to use such tactics to achieve personal, political or unsavory agendas or to harm the university.

As a university, we are committed to excellence in all things—including athletics. I regularly review the performance of all those who report to me, including Mr. Boone. But I cannot and will not engage in any sort of review in response to a public campaign to force his removal.

A debate worthy of attention is about who we are as a university family. Will we remain civil, reasonable people? Will we respect the dignity of each person? I believe we will. We know what our values are.

The current campaign against the university and its athletic leadership is uncivil. It is not in the spirit of the Ole Miss family. It hinders the goals set forth in the Creed and is not in the interest of our university. I call on those involved in the campaign to stop, and I call on every person who loves Ole Miss to denounce it in every way possible.

Dan Jones, Chancellor
The University of Mississippi

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