Rod Paige, interim Jackson State University president and former U.S. Secretary of Education.

“As a student at Jackson State University, I learned the importance of leading by example … so I want to be the first to step forward with a contribution of $10,000,” Dr. Rod Paige, interim president of Jackson State University, wrote to JSU alumni on Monday.

The three-page letter, sent to over 40,000 recipients who “have the most invested interest in the university,” is part of what Paige called an “urgent fundraising campaign” to raise $5 million in 30 days for the financially beleaguered university.

In October 2016, the Institutes of Higher Learning trustees reported that Jackson State’s cash reserves declined from $37 million to $4 million over four years.

The board hired Ridgeland-based Matthews, Cutrer & Lindsay P.A., an accounting analytics firm, to assess the university’s finances between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2016.

Less than a week after that announcement, then-president, Dr. Carolyn Meyers announced her resignation. Paige took over as interim president on Nov. 7.

Auditors aim to identify past decisions that lead to the current financial problems and areas that presently need to be addressed.

After three months of investigating the financial deficit, Paige said in the letter, that the problem involved both spent down cash reserves and across-the-board spending practices that exceeded the university’s income.

In the meantime, operations and academics “advanced development groups” will identify, discuss and recommend measures that will help better balance the university budget.

The advanced development groups have met a couple times, but have yet to submit any recommendations, said Danny Blanton, a spokesman for Dr. Paige.

Immediate measures such as instituting a hiring freeze and placing controls on travel have already taken place at the university, but when asked about the possibility of other cuts, including staff reductions, Blanton said that “nothing is off the table.”

The fundraising plea comes a week after JSU announced an agreement to pay the federal government $1.17 million dollars to settle allegations that the school mismanaged National Science Foundation grants from June 2006 to September 2011.

In the fundraising letter, Paige said JSU did not mismanage federal grant funds, but that the actual problem came in lack of time and effort reporting, including employees’ completing of time cards while working on grant projects, he said.

“Recipients of federally funded grants must adhere to the regulations applicable to those grants and accurately report on the required information,” stated Gregory K. Davis, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. “This settlement sends a strong signal to grant recipients that failure to follow the applicable requirements may lead to significant financial consequences.”

The settlement agreement will be paid from an insurance pool that is managed at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and will not have an immediate impact on the school’s cash reserve or operating budget, Paige said.

In the same week, legislators announce a second round of state budget cuts. Paige said the latest cut, combined with other recent budgetary belt-tightening, has resulted in a $1.3 million overall reduction to the university.

“We need alumni support,” Blanton said.

Within the last year, the Detroit Alumni Chapter has established an endowment currently worth over $50,000 said Robert E. Norwood (no relation to this reporter), Detroit Chapter Alumni President.

“We, the Detroit alumni chapter, fully support the JSU presidential challenge from Dr. Paige,” he told Mississippi Today. “We will continue to give… and will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our students get a quality education and our institution continues to thrive.”

Officials have set up website for the donations.

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Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.