JSU students want innovation, access

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Jackson State University students see the selection of a new president as an opportunity to increase innovation on campus.

The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning on Wednesday hosted five consecutive “listening sessions” at Jackson State as part of its search for a new president. Dr. Carolyn Myers resigned last October.

With interim President Dr. Rod Paige and members of the Campus Advisory Search Committee present, IHL trustee C.D. Smith opened the floor to receive “the millennial perspective.”

Students, most of whom are campus leaders, spoke about the need for a president who will put them first, “as if you would your own child,” said Gabrielle Baker, a sophomore from Memphis.

A healthy relationship between parent and child and university president and students needs visibility, said Baker. “If I can’t see you how can I relate to you and how can you relate to me and give me what I need?”

Graduating senior DeAndrae Powell, from Flint, Mich., said that in his four years at JSU it was uncommon for the university president to sit among students in the cafeteria, until Paige arrived in November.

“He was coming up to us as if he was a freshman at our university,” said Powell. “He came to us with an inviting spirit, on a student level but also professional.”

Powell also mentioned the need for a president who can “clean house” and re-evaluate standards for employees. That remark received a lot of moans in agreement.

Ashley FG Norwood, Mississippi Today

Rachel Payton, student at Jackson State University, speaks to IHL members about the importance of quality leadership over quantity of secondary degrees.

When students warmed up, other suggestions came to the floor, such as re-evaluating academic curriculum that has aged with the university.

“The next president should be concerned that students are not just getting an education, but a thorough education … more like a professional school,” said Kaylor Bell, junior biology and psychology major from Vicksburg.

At the recess of the student listening session, Terry Woodard, a member of the search committee and former president of the JSU National Alumni Association, told a group of students about the history of challenges the university has faced during his four years leading the alumni group.

It is very important to understand the systems within the state and how they operate in assistance of the university, said Woodard.

Dr. Antwon Woods, adjunct professor of sports administration and a JSU alum, concurred. “I don’t want my school to go through bankruptcy,” he said. “We can’t thrive without financial gain and support. It’s like a business. Without money, we cannot operate.”

Last October, the Institutes of Higher Learning trustees reported Jackson State’s cash reserves declined from $37 million to $4 million over the past four years. The board hired Matthews, Cutrer and Lindsay, an accounting analytics firm, to assess the university’s finances between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2016.

Less than a week later, Meyers announced her resignation as university president. Paige took over as interim president on Nov. 7.

With the listening sessions concluded, tentative dates for the remainder of the presidential search are as follows:

March 17: completed list of best individuals to consider

April 18-20: first round of interviews

May 5: second round of interviews

May 17: bring preferred candidate to the university campus