The Mississippi House addressed the structure and appointments of the Institutions of Higher Learning’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday when two bills were passed that would change how those appointments would be made.

HB 870 would redistribute the authority to make appointments to the IHL board between the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House. Each official would have four appointments and four appointments coming from each of the Mississippi Supreme Court districts. IHL Board members would serve a term of nine years.

Currently, the Governor has full authority to appoint the 12 members of the IHL board.

This bill is also tied to HCR 51 which would change the language in the state constitution.  That measure could be brought up by the chairman in the coming days.

Much of the argument against the bill centered on fairness and the ability for universities to all have a ‘seat at the table’ when it comes to how they are managed. Members disagreed that by splitting up the appointments between the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker that it would, in fact, create that equality.

Rep. Chris Bell

Rep. Chris Bell said he stands by the desire for equality and a voice for all universities on the IHL board, and disagreed with the language in the current bill.

Bell filed a bill this year that would do away with the IHL board as a whole (HB 1194) but the bill died in committee.

“The IHL board has never been a friend to colleges or universities,” said Bell. “Do we forever want to be at the bottom?”

In defense of the bill was Rep. Scott Bounds. He believes it will give legislators more of an opportunity to offer advice as to who should be appointed to IHL.

Some members worried that even if passed by the Legislature, the Governor would veto the bill and they would be right back to where they started in 2021.

Rep. Scott Bounds

The bill went on to pass by a vote of 78-41.

A failed amendment was offered by Rep. Orlando Paden that would give all appointment authority back to the Governor but require that eight of the seats on the 12 member IHL board be given to an alumni that represents each of the state’s public universities.

“The spirit of this amendment gives us equal opportunity for all of our institutions to participate on the IHL board,” Paden said.

During the debate of the bill, Rep. Bounds said it wasn’t necessary to pass Rep. Paden’s amendment because HB 1571 would address similar concerns.

HB 1571 revises the authority of IHL to choose institution executives or university presidents.  It passed the House on a vote of 95-22.  The bill establishes a seven-member search committee. Six of the members would be alumni from that particular university and one would be appointed by the IHL board and could be anyone from a student to a faculty member.

“I think this addresses some of the things that weren’t done in the past,” said Bounds.

The bills will head to the Mississippi Senate for consideration pending the passage of HCR 51.