Despite declining enrollment, Bynum sees turnaround for JSU

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Dr. William Bynum, Jackson State University’s new president, faces a decline in student enrollment for the fall.  However, he hopes to turn the university around in a year or two, he says, using his “style of handling things and some belt tightening.”

Bynum, whose first day on the job was July 1, spoke with the media Friday morning on campus to lay out in broad terms his operational plan.

Although final enrollment numbers won’t be available until September, Bynum said applications for admission this fall indicate enrollment will be down.

Bynum identified three areas of focus for the coming academic year: students, teamwork and collegiality, and the pursuit of excellence.

Bynum described himself as a person who enjoys engaging with students. And he has encouraged faculty to keep students first academically and staff to keep students first operationally, he said. A part of his student focus includes tracking enrollment, retention and graduation, and job placement to make sure the university meets its goals of student success.

Despite widespread criticism of Bynum’s selection from students and alumni — the interview search advisory committee even voted not to endorse him as a candidate — Bynum said he will work with all constituent groups.

“Together we can. Together we will,” he said.

Bynum pointed to his relationship with national alumni association president Yolanda Owens, who earlier expressed concerns about his qualifications. Once he was appointed to the presidency by the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning, Bynum said, Owens was the first to welcome him and his wife with a hug and a commitment to move the university forward together.

The university plans to collect feedback from students, employees and alumni to assess programs services and activities, Bynum said.

“Once we get that assessment, we will make sure we are incorporating that feedback into the next time,” Bynum said.

When Bynum accepted the top job at JSU, he indicated his first priority is getting Jackson State’s finances in order.

JSU President Carolyn Meyers announced her resignation in October, less than a week after the IHL appointed an accounting analytics firm to assess the university’s finances. IHL 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. to assess the university’s finances between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2016.

“JSU is in good shape despite the finances,” said Bynum on Friday. “A year or two from now, those financial issues will be behind us.”

Bynum gave credit to Dr. Rod Paige, who served as interim president since November, and his administration for making budget cuts and a recovery plan which took effect July 1.

JSU recovery plan slashes 42 jobs, merges schools and departments

Short term, Bynum said, he will not alter those plans, which included the loss of more than 100 staff positions and merging of several academic departments. However, he may revisit them over time.

Bynum described budget cuts for state colleges and universities made by state legislators in the 2017 session as “extremely conservative.”

“We will work within our means at the university,”  he said.

Bynum is placing an extra effort on fundraising, or as he likes to call it “friend raising.”

“Getting out and about will allow others to get to know me and my vision for the university,” he said.  He already has visited five alumni chapters and four churches.

“While the heavy lifting occurs now, there’s nothing like looking into the eyes of a freshman and seeing those hopes and dreams and aspirations and knowing that I get to play a part in making sure that son or daughter gets to their ultimate goal,” said Bynum.