Nail arrives at USM for forum amidst student protest


Abigail Troth

Students and faculty gather at Shoemaker Square to protest Lance Nail’s campaign for provost.

USM students were shocked and outraged when a Twitter thread received campus attention for its exposure of Lance Nail’s problematic past at a previous university. Despite a history that involves the dismissal of sexual harassment and academic dishonesty, Nail is one of the finalists for the university’s provost. 

Shortly after the thread exposed Nail, graduate students banded together to condemn him as a candidate for the provost. Gathered at Shoemaker Square on April 18th, students raised signs expressing their own opinions of Nail and demanded that he stay away from USM. The students fought the Mississippi sun and humidity and protested for four hours—the entire time that Nail was on campus.  

The protest had originally been started by an Instagram page titled @usm_concernedgradstudents, where a petition began to circulate with the goal to keep Nail off of USM’s provost. The petition has now received over 1,000 signatures and is steadily growing. 

Graduate students helped to start this campaign since they expressed concern about the student body’s voice being ignored. With the provost having such a high position of power at USM, students are concerned about someone taking the role with such a checkered past. 

Emily Goldsmith, one of the organizers of the protest, believes that Nail does not fit the provost and has no place at USM. 

“We want a great provost candidate, who’s going to look out for students and faculty alike. And based on what we’ve learned and the accusations, we just don’t feel like that’s Lance Nail.” said Goldsmith.  

Goldsmith is one of many graduate students who organized the protest and has helped to lead the movement against Nail’s candidacy, despite pushback from Hattiesburg elites. 

The students believe that Nail’s selection would also pose a threat to campus safety, which students fear is becoming jeopardized. This worry also caused students to wonder how Nail was selected in the first place. Students are questioning whether or not the designated search committee is not actually taking an in-depth look into the pasts of these candidates, and are worried that USM might fall into even more scandals.

“The behavior I’ve witnessed, the things I’ve read online, is truly disturbing. So, I recommend to everybody, use your voices. Let USM know that this person is not right for the role, no matter how recommended he is. That pattern of behavior he has committed? It is not acceptable.” said undergraduate student Dakota McDonald. 

Around 1:30 pm, the protestors marched to the Joe Paul Student Theater for Nail’s Open Forum and Presentation, prepared with questions for the controversial candidate. Though their signs were forced to rest outside of the theater, these protestors proved that they did not need to raise a sign to send their message to Nail. 

Nail opened the forum with an introduction of his achievements at other universities, including Texas Tech University (where the controversy stems), San Diego State University, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and even USM. The conversation was mostly geared toward business vernacular and achievements in his role as the dean of multiple business schools across his career. Nail also stated his goals should he become provost, and addressed a need to focus on student success, raising enrollment rates and helping the Gulf Park campus reach its full potential. 

However, the protestors that were present at the forum were still unsatisfied with Nail’s presentation and felt that the conversation focused too much on supporting business majors. 

“You seem to have a lot of experience regarding the business aspects of the schooling system and business majors. But, to be frank and candid, I don’t care about business majors. I’m a psychology major.” A protester said to Nail during the forum. “My question would be, do you have any plans in mind to better the psychology and education programs at the school, or the English programs?” The student asked. 

“If you implement student success measures, but not just for business students. For psych students and for English students, they’re for all students.” Nail replied. 

In regards to student safety, Nail did not seem to understand much of the question and found himself stumbling on his knowledge of the policies currently in place at USM. 

“What, as a provost, will you do to help students safety-wise? [The population] of this campus is mostly female. You talked a lot about business, but my primary concern that I have is campus safety. What do you think you should do to help those who don’t have a voice?” McDonald asked Nail at the forum. 

“Well, you have to have a zero-tolerance policy, I think, that comes in and addresses that. That’s the easiest approach to it, right? What are the safeguards in place now? I don’t know what the safeguards are in place now.” Nail responded, invoking a response from the audience. “Again, I can’t address what policies are here, but I think that’s the easiest way to do it, and then you adhere to the Title IX guides of what you should do.” Nail replied, ending the conversation. 

Once the forum ended around 3:00 pm, the students returned to Shoemaker Square to continue their protest, discontent with the results of the forum. 

The concerned graduates’ Instagram page is encouraging students to continue signing and sharing the petition and provide feedback on Nail’s forum until the decision is made in the summer. 

“So please, I beg of y’all, use your voices.” McDonald reminded students.