College Board names Lucas as interim chief

Published 11:04 pm Saturday, October 25, 2008

Aubrey K. Lucas, who previously served as president at the University of Southern Mississippi and Delta State University, has been named the state’s interim commissioner of higher education.

The state College Board made the announcement late Friday. Lucas will hold the position until the board finds a replacement for outgoing Higher Education Commissioner Tom Meredith.

Meredith announced Wednesday that he would retire from this $366,000-a-year job, a move that followed an embarrassing landscaping scandal that also toppled Vance Watson, Mississippi State University’s interim president.

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Watson repaid the state more than $12,000 for landscaping work at Meredith’s home in Flowood, which was done in 2007 using MSU equipment and materials. That amount also included the cost of investigating the issue.

A second round of interviews to find a president for Mississippi State is scheduled for next Wednesday. Watson had hoped he would get the Mississippi State job permanently, but revelations about the landscaping at Meredith’s home derailed any chance of that.

College Board president Amy Whitten said in a news release that Lucas’ appointment is effective immediately. She called him “a true statesman.”

“He is well respected in the higher education arena, and is a natural choice as the board searches for a permanent replacement,” she said.

State Auditor Stacy Pickering has turned over his findings in the landscaping investigation to Oktibbeha County District Attorney Forrest Allgood, who said a grand jury will decide whether to pursue criminal charges.

A report issued by Pickering said Meredith had asked Watson for a recommendation about landscaping and soil testing at his home. At the time, Watson was vice president and director of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station at MSU. Pickering said Watson sent the students and equipment to Meredith’s home.