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Despite widespread criticism of the selection from students and alumni, Dr. William B. Bynum was named president of Jackson State University on Wednesday afternoon by the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning.
“This is the greatest career blessing of my life and I am thankful to (God) for that. I’m glad that I heard earlier that people will hold me accountable. I welcome that opportunity,” Bynam said as he accepted the position.
“Once people get a chance to interact with me, they will see that I have a genuine love and support for the university,” he said.
Bynum, former president of Mississippi Valley State University, was grilled by JSU students, faculty, alumni and interested parties in a series of meetings on campus earlier in the day.
The board picked Bynum as its preferred candidate last week.
After being appointed, Bynum acknowledged criticism of his selection but said he would lead JSU to become the premiere historically black university.
“For those with concerns, trust me I heard you loud and clear. I understand the mistrust you feel but I promise to work hard for you. I will be genuine and transparent,” assured Bynum.
The first priority is getting Jackson State’s finances in order, Bynum said. Dr. Jerryl Briggs, current executive vice president and chief operating officer at Mississippi Valley State University, is Bynum’s nominee to follow him as president of MVSU.
During the meeting with alumni earlier Wednesday, DeAndrae Powell addressed Bynum: “I’ve spoken with students and alumni at the Valley and I have received a low approval rate (of your presidency).” .
To which Bynum responded: “Let’s cut to the chase. I may not be your choice and you have every right to an opinion of who you want. But the board made the choice and I’ve made the decision to accept.”
“Watch me. You don’t have to depend on the opinion of others,” he said.
Jauan Knight, a senior at JSU, challenged Bynum: “If the IHL asks you to do something counterproductive to the university, such as merge the state HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), how would you respond?”
“I have no interest in that,” declared Bynum. “I will do things in the best interest of the university.”
Knight continued his questioning: “When you were selected, it was almost without hesitation that you accepted the position with only being at Mississippi Valley for four years. How can we trust that you will stick with JSU?”
“I can assure you the Valley family is okay with my being here,” Bynum responded before being interrupted by a loud crowd of “Oh no’s” from the audience.
“The IHL, to me, does not have the best interest of our HBCUs at heart,” said Jackie Walker, alumna of Mississippi Valley State University. “If you are preferred, why would the IHL select you after I’ve heard comments about students concerning your interview. Why wouldn’t they leave you at Valley to do a greater job, if you’ve improved at MVSU so much.”
“I’m not going to speak for the board,” Bynum responded.
“IHL is ignoring the comments and concerns of graduates and students of HBCUs,” Walker countered. “This is a waste of time. If you are not selected and were to return to Valley, I wouldn’t want you back. Don’t come back.”
“How can we trust that you will restore trust in JSU community and IHL board,” asked Floyd Williams, the regional vice president of the JSU National Alumni Association.
“We don’t have to like each other, we don’t have to get along but have to work together,” replied Bynum.
Jackson State University alumni and constituency groups have been meeting for several days to discuss strategies they hope will delay Bynum’s appointment.
The selection process was criticized in an open letter to the IHL board last week from Yolanda R. Owens, president of the JSU National Alumni Association.
Members of the interview search advisory committee, which was appointed by the IHL board, had earlier rejected Bynum’s candidacy. Dr. James T. Minor, a JSU alumnus and senior strategist for academic success in the chancellor’s office at California State University, was the advisory committee’s preferred candidate.
On Tuesday, JSU alumni and supporters filed a broad lawsuit against the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees for racial discrimination in its governance of the historically black colleges and universities and its presidential selection processes.
Not all of the comments made at Wednesday’s listening session were critical of Bynum.
“Jackson State is getting a good person,” said Mary Crump, alumna of Jackson State (undergraduate) and Mississippi Valley State (graduate).
“The comments today need to be to the board and not the candidate. Valley has grown in enrollment, the financial situation has bettered and he has made a tremendous difference in alumni giving. I am very proud,” she said.
But the JSU alumni association president put Bynum on notice.
“You will be held accountable. If you are not true to all you’ve said, we will question all that you’ve done to get to this point. We are watching you and we are watching IHL,” said Owens.