By Janice K. Neal-Vincent,
Beginning in February of this year, Thomas Hudson served as interim of Jackson State University until he was officially named permanent president by the College Board of the Institutions of Higher Learning Thursday, November 19. Hudson replaced former president William Bynum Jr. who was arrested in Clinton and charged with simple possession of marijuana, a prostitution sting and a false statement of identity.
Prior to the college board’s appointment, JSU Faculty Senate rendered Bynum a vote of no confidence.
Black lawyers unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Circuit Court to halt the college board’s decision.
During a call meeting of the JSU family after Bynum’s arrest in February, Jean Claude Assad, co-chair of the JSU Search Committee, stated, “It is one of the most painful experiences that one can experience in participating in what’s supposed to be a collegial process. The board let us know in no uncertain terms, it was their decision.”
“What kind of vetting are we doing putting people in that the JSU family does not want?” was the question Professor Timothy Turner, Biology Department chair posed.
Prior to Bynum’s appointment, Carolyn Meyers resigned as president. She was president from 2011-2016. Under her reign, student enrollment decreased from 10,000 to approximately 7,000. Meyers submitted a letter of resignation within days after the college board hired a CPA firm to examine JSU’s finances following cash reserves dwindling from $37 million to $4.2 million.
Reflecting on a series of virtual listening sessions among the JSU family, neither a local nor national search was conducted. The board determined that Hudson was ideal for the position.
Board member Steven Cunningham remarked, “As a Jackson State University alumnus, I am extremely pleased that we have identified one of our own to serve as president. We have witnessed the great strides he has made over the past nine months and have full confidence that he will continue to demonstrate the great love he has for this university by providing outstanding leadership for the students, faculty, staff and alumni.”
JSU Faculty Senate president Dawn Bishop McLin commented, “My hope is that this historical event marks the first day of many more noteworthy achievements for our beloved Jackson State University.” In advancement of mutual interests in shared governance, faculty pay equity, improving research infrastructure and university welfare during and after COVID-19 crisis, McLin stressed that the Faculty Senate is looking forward to strengthening their relationship.
Rosella L. Houston, president of the JSU Staff Senate, pinned that the senate is looking forward to continuously working with Hudson in his new role.
“Jackson State University National Alumni Association, Inc. is committed to working alongside President Hudson as we promote academic excellence, grow our student enrollment and expand our university programs…We all stand united and elated as ONE JSU Family,” said Earlexia Norwood.
Not as optimistic were several voices. Sophia Leggett, professor of public health and long-time Faculty Senate member reacted: “I have seen how IHL has done things and not listened to the voice of Jackson State. I hope this is not an exercise. I think we must do due process.”
Retired JSU professor and dean, Ivory Paul Phillips stated, “I was a bit surprised that there was no national search, especially since I had heard several prominent alumni, including the national alumni president and a state legislator, call for such. That would have been a way of securing the best person and it would have shown respect for the status of the university.”
Alfred Rankins, the commissioner of higher education, responded to various issues. “The board listened to the input from the Jackson State family and based on that input made a decision to hire Thomas Hudson as the president.”
“Many expressed a desire to have an alumnus leading the university…Although some wanted a national search, there was overwhelming support for the current leader to continue serving,” responded Cunningham.
“I am extremely appreciative and beyond humbled for the opportunity to continue to build upon Jackson State University’s extraordinary legacy…It is an extreme honor and privilege to serve my Alma mater…and the community I grew up in…It’s about family, history and legacy,” Hudson commented.
Since 2012 Hudson has been a member of the JSU staff, served as chief opperating officer/chief diversity officer, chief diversity and EEO officer/Title IX coordinator. He graduated from JSU with a B.S. degree in political science and graduated from the University of Mississippi in law. He also founded his own law practice and was an EEO specialist for the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA in Clinton.