Mississippi Valley State University has seen six presidents come and go over the past 10 years, leaving alumni to fear for the sustainability of the university.
And in August, the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees may begin another search for a new Valley president.
Dr. Jerryl Briggs, current acting president of the university, wants to allay those concerns.
“The IHL board members realize the importance of stability and continuing to have the university move into a positive trajectory,” he said in an interview with Mississippi Today.
On May 31, despite widespread criticism from Jackson State University students and alumni, Mississippi Valley State University president Dr. William B. Bynum was named president of Jackson State University by the IHL board of trustees. Bynum immediately endorsed Briggs to become Valley’s next president.
Briggs will serve as acting president until August, when the IHL will ask Briggs whether he will accept the title of interim president or will he submit himself as a candidate for university president. An interim president cannot interview for the permanent appointment.
“I am here to support the university 100 percent,” said Briggs, executive vice president and chief operating officer in Bynum’s MVSU administration. “I’ve loved seeing what we’ve been able to do and being a part of the university’s growth.”
Since joining the staff in 2014, Briggs has been instrumental in improving the university’s retention rate by 10 percent for fall 2014 and 12 percent for fall 2015. The number of high school students participating in the university’s dual enrollment program increased by 200 percent in fall 2016. Briggs saw an overall enrollment increase of 11.4 percent. He also managed a $17 million capital improvement project for the university’s athletic complex, with additional planning underway for renovations to residence halls and other campus buildings.
“I truly hope (the presidential selection process) won’t affect our students,” said Briggs.
“Valley’s in motion, meaning we’re moving forward. Whatever change happens, I hope the momentum continues,” said Briggs.
Students are concerned about deferred maintenance issues, said Briggs, brought on largely by cuts in the state budget and the Legislature’s refusal to pass a bond bill to fund building projects on college campuses.
Mississippi Valley State did not receive $1 million during the last legislative session to repair and renovate the student union. But the university is proceeding with construction of an Academic Skills building with the expectation that $3 million will be appropriated during the 2018 legislative session.
Briggs has heard from constituents who fear the IHL’s selection of Bynum as the president of JSU could lead to merging historically black colleges and universities in the state. In 2009, Gov. Haley Barbour proposed merging the state’s three public black colleges, Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State, to address a state budget shortfall. The proposal was not taken up by the House or the Senate and subsequently died during the 2010 legislative session.
Briggs says he’s 100 percent sure this will not happen.
“HBCUs are more relevant now or as relevant as they were when they were first founded. Valley is the comprehensive university, Alcorn is the land grant university and Jackson State is the research university. We are all very relevant in providing resources for our students and responsibility in our communities, ” said Briggs. “I have been assured by IHL Commissioner (Glenn) Boyce this will not happen.
“We will prepare ourselves to receive our new students,” he added. “The charge from the board was as serving as acting president to assume the responsibilities as a university president to insure that all the things are happening. We are doing what we need to do to remain viable.”