Black Nativity, stage play by students of the Speech Communication and Theatre dept. at Jackson State University. Credit: JSU Communications

Students, faculty and alumni of Jackson State University’s Department of Speech Communication and Theater — one of several departments being merged with others as a cost-saving measure — are angry about the decision and apprehensive about the outcome.

The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning will vote Thursday whether to approve this move and other recommendations that are a budget reduction and recovery plan for Jackson State proposed by interim President Dr. Rod Paige and his administration. The plan addresses the current financial crisis at JSU.

“As chair of the Department of Speech Communication and Theater, and even more importantly as a graduate of the department, I was devastated,” said Dr. Mark G. Henderson.

Under the plan, Henderson will return solely to professor status. Henderson is one of the seven department chairs similarly affected.  

“What you’re seeing is the end result of the process. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It had to happen,” said Danny Blanton, Jackson State University spokesperson.

Merging departments, cutting 42 jobs and an earlier reduction of 65 vacant positions should result in $6 million in savings for the university.

“My family and I cannot afford for me to have done work as an honors student in this department only to receive a degree that will never work towards the completion of my academic career,” said Avery Evans, a junior majoring in dramatic arts at JSU.

“I cannot afford to have worked so hard not to receive a degree that will solidify my future as a black male communicator and theater practitioner in the 21st century,” he added.

Members of MADDRAMA Performance Troupe, an internationally recognized student organization founded by Dr. Mark Henderson at JSU.

Courtney Rutledge, an alumna of the department and current graduate student in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University, concurs: “Students should be made aware of how an academic merger under the proposed restructuring (of the Department of Speech Communication and Theater) under English and Modern Foreign Languages and Visual Arts will largely deplete the value of our scholars’ degrees.”

There has been no discussion about degree modifications in the event the recommendations are approved by the IHL trustees, Rutledge said.

In January, Paige assembled advanced development groups to resolve the university’s financial crisis. Those groups focused on two areas: operations and academics.

Rutledge claims that “none of these five advanced development groups included the students, faculty, chair, graduates or shareholders of the Department of Speech and Theater.”

According to Danny Blanton, each of the deans met with their colleges including all faculty and chairs to lay out the recommendations being considered last April.

The names of group members are confidential and no minutes were taken during the groups’ meetings, Blanton said.

“With Jackson State, ever since the financial problem became apparent and Dr. Paige came in, people knew he was given the responsibility of coming up with a plan to move the university forward to financial stability. They knew it was coming. It had to be done, ” he added.

Recommendations include:

  • Realign School of Journalism and Media Studies under the College of Liberal Arts as a department
  • Merge elements of Department of Speech Communication and Theater with the Department of English and Modern Foreign Languages and the Department of Art
  • Merge JSU Global and the Office of Community College Relations with the Division of Undergraduate Studies and Enrollment Management
  • Reorganize College of Business from four departments to two departments
  • Merge Department of Special Education with Social Science and MAT in College of Education
  • Reorganize College of Science, Engineering and Technology from eight departments to five
  • Move Office of Grants and Contracts to Division of Business and Finance
  • Consolidate Welcome Center and Events Department in Division of Institutional Advancement
  • Move Institutional Research to Division of Information Technology
  • Move Title III to Academic Affairs
  • Separate Academic and Student Affairs
  • Move JSU Online to Academic Affairs

JSU is trying to rebound from having its cash reserves drop by 89 percent from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2016 under then President Dr. Carolyn Meyers, who resigned from the position Nov. 1, 2016.

The IHL trustees’ meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday in the IHL board room, located in the Universities Center, 3825 Ridgewood Road, Jackson. Members of the public may attend the meeting, but a closed executive session may be held in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.

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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.