College Board hires PR firm after Jones’ ouster

Six days after news hit that Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones’ contract would not be renewed, the state College Board asked a public relations and messaging firm for help.

It needed it. The backlash to the Jones decision had spent nearly a week growing and intensifying.

The board voted March 20 to order Jim Borsig, former commissioner of higher education, to start preparations to search for Jones’ successor, essentially not renewing Jones’ contract, which expires in September. Ole Miss-connected groups — including large pockets of alumni, students and donors — were immediately furious. By March 26, there were already plans for two formal rallies in support of Jones and every form of social media was saturated with anti-College Board rhetoric.

That wasn’t the worst part. The Legislature was still in session. Bills that would have stripped the College Board of considerable power by establishing separate boards at each public university or studied the issue had dropped.

Neither piece of legislation made legitimate progress before lawmakers went home, but the message was clear: The College Board was on the radar of people who could damage it. So, on March 26, it hired Widmeyer Communications, a national firm with offices in Washington and New York that specializes in higher education communications and crisis management.