Listening sessions prod IHL Board of Trustees to seek qualified candidates for the next president of JSU

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,
Contributing Writer,

Several listening sessions were held on the Jackson State University campus among the faculty, staff, students, alumni and community Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Institutions of Higher Learning board members heard those who voiced their concerns regarding preferred qualifications of the next president of JSU.
Within the last twelve years, the JSU family has had three different presidents who, as they stressed, had hindered the growth of the university. A number of persons indicated that increasingly low morale is a result of failed leadership.
Carolyn Meyers (Ph.D.) resigned as president of Norfolk State University on June 30, 2010. An article by the Virginian-Pilot revealed on January 9, 2010, that “issues of leadership, judgment and vision” which labeled Meyers “ill-suited for the president’s chair brought her to doom. Then on November 22, 2010, IHL appointed her as president of JSU. She took the position in January, 2011 and resigned on November 1, 2016 amid financial questions after the college board hired a CPA firm to examine JSU’s finances because of the rapidly diminishing university cash reserves.
William Bynum (Ph.D.) was appointed president of JSU in the summer of 2017 after serving four years as president of Mississippi State University. Faculty, staff and students publicly stated their disapproval of the board’s decision. Bynum resigned in February, 2020, after having been found guilty of charges stemming from a prostitution sting by a Clinton judge.
On the same day, the IHL board named Thomas K. Hudson, a JSU alumnus, (J.D. and Bynum’s former assistant) the interim president. The following November, Hudson was appointed president of JSU. Hudson received a no-confidence vote from faculty senate in January, 2023. IHL, however, placed him on administrative leave but offered no rationale for their decision.
Alumni, in the midst of their frustrations, stood at the mic and called for a president to be a changemaker who launches excellence for JSU in character and conduct in an effort to push the institution to its utopia.
[The leader should be] “a visionary. We have black leadership with the board now. Exercise it. I’m not saying do anything special. Just do the right thing,” appealed Donna Antoine LaVigne.
Carrine Bishop (Ph.D.) explained the need for “someone who is accountable, sensible and transparent.” [She/He should be] committed to this institution, have the experience and knows the history of the community. Stop hiring your friends. We need to vet every individual.”
Ivory Phillips (Ph.D.), mentioned that the JSU family “does not feel that this board has been giving [the institution] its best attention. I think a good president is one who has a real, strong vision for developing a Historically Black University into a first-rate university.”
Sophia Leggette (MPH, Ph.D.) called for the board to “be sincere and intentional” in their selection of the next JSU president to move the university upward, rather than channeling students, faculty and staff into a slope of decline, thereby impeding the university’s thriving. She mentioned the need to lift the university because “we have been down so long.”
Associate professor in criminal justice, Etta Morgan (Ph.D.), informed board members that faculty morale is at an “all-time low.” She claimed that the university is being destroyed from the inside out. Referencing insubordination, she stated, “Students have gotten to the point where they are cursing you out in the classroom. You write them up, nothing gets done.”
LaKeisha Crye, instructor and 2004 graduate, told board members that her daughters would be in danger on the JSU campus and that she would spend “more money” for them on “a safer campus.”
Student Jason Johnson called for a heightened sense of awareness. “The only thing we want here in our next president is really… communication.” He justified his statement by indicating that the things students often hear never surface among the student body.
In his mic space, Elijah Karriem – senior and secretary of the university’s NAACP chapter – explained that he did not care for the president’s administration to read from papers when they hold meetings. Instead, they “should be well-prepared when communicating at town hall meetings.”
Christi Madison Fortson (senior psychology major) complained about lack of repairs for accessibility of working bathroom stalls in the Dollye M. E. Robinson Liberal Arts Building. Transparency from administration and other buildings needing attention were also mentioned. Fortson further commented that the board should do “an extensive background check” for JSU’s next president.
American politician and democratic member of the Mississippi Senate, Senator Hillman Frazier is a representative of parts of the Jackson community. He made it clear that lawmakers cite JSU’s turbulent leadership which gives them reasons to not provide more financial support to the institution.
“The only thing that we really ask is you give us a slate of candidates, not put someone in front of us and tell us that’s who is going to lead the university,” firmly stated Patrease Edwards, president of the alumni association.
Steven Cunningham (M.D.), a JSU alumnus, heads the IHL board’s search committee. He responded that he, too, “wants a good president” and said that the search committee would do a national search. Asserting that it may take several months before a new president is in place, Cunningham noted that the listening sessions are essential.
Following the listening sessions at JSU, The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning met and appointed the members of the search committee for the Jackson State University President Search: Steven Cunningham (Chair); Ormella Cummings (Ph.D.); Bruce Martin; Gee Ogletree; and Hal Parker.
Since Hudson’s resignation, Elayne Hayes-Anthony (Ph.D.) has been serving as interim and desires to become the next JSU president. A JSU alumnus, she has served in a number of leadership capacities, including Chairwoman of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Assistant Superintendent of Public Information, Staff Development and Pupil Placement for JPS: Professor and Communications Chair of the Department of Communications at Belhaven University; and Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Mass Communications at JSU. Hayes-Anthony is a national figure who heads a number of boards.

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