Allegation tied to 2 top Miss. education leaders


Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi's commissioner of higher

education and the interim president of Mississippi State University

are under investigation following an allegation of misconduct - an

allegation that is itself shrouded in mystery.

The nature of the alleged misconduct is not clear, but it comes

at a time when the state College Board is interviewing candidates

to be Mississippi State's next president.

The university's interim president, Vance Watson, wants the job

permanently. He issued a statement Friday saying he is the victim

of "vicious public attacks" - though the attacks he referred to

have not yet been made public - and that the search for a new MSU

leader is being influenced by people who want to discredit him.

"I'm unable to comment on any specific allegations made against

me because they have not been brought to me for an open and honest

exchange," Watson said.

State Higher Education Commissioner Tom Meredith, who assumed

the top higher education post in 2005, was out of town and did not

immediately respond to a message left Friday at his Jackson office.

Meredith and the College Board oversee Mississippi's eight public


While the source or nature of the allegation has not been made

public, Lisa Shoemaker, a spokeswoman for the state auditor's

office, confirmed the agency received "an allegation involving a

(state College Board) employee and Mississippi State University,"

but said the agency "can't comment on any ongoing investigation."

She would not elaborate.

College Board President Amy Whitten issued a statement Friday,

saying the board is "aware of the allegations" and will discuss

the issue Saturday during an emergency conference call.

"Both Dr. Meredith and Dr. Watson have exemplary records of

lifelong service to higher education, and the Board holds both of

them in the highest professional regard," Whitten said.

Watson said Friday he is requesting to appear before the College

Board at its next meeting.

"I would like to have the opportunity to provide testimony as

to the vicious public attacks being made on my personal credibility

by certain individuals," he said.

The search for Mississippi State's new president has been

criticized for what some consider its secretive nature. The names

of the candidates being considered for the job are not made public.

Still, the College Board maintains that the search process is

"transparent and representative-based," said Annie Mitchell, a

spokeswoman for the College Board. She said the reason the names of

the candidates are kept secret is to "protect the applicant's job

as well as his or her home institution."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)