ITTA BENA — “Save some money and just move forward and select Dr. Jerryl Briggs,” said Mary Crump, 1967 graduate of Mississippi Valley State University. The audience behind her agreed.

Thursday, members of the Institutions of Higher Learning Board Search Committee heard from students, alumni, administrators and faculty members in a series of campus listening sessions at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena.

The discussion about qualifications for the next president quickly turned into a rally to select the current acting president, Dr. Jerryl Briggs.

Briggs has not confirmed his candidacy.

“We have two tracks to decide from. Either we can start a national search or we can consider an expedited search. An expedited search is only if we feel like we have someone with all the traits needed to further enhance the university,” said Shane Hooper, a College Board trustee and chair of the MVSU Board Search Committee.

“Valley is one of the younger HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). We’re not as advanced. We need a president that will keep up with the Joneses. Someone like Dr. Briggs. He’s stern but reasonable, and he’s one for the students. We really appreciate him,” said Brandon McCall, a student at Valley.

The school, which opened in the summer of 1950, reported an enrollment of 2,458 for fall 2017.

Briggs, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the university, was named acting president of Valley in June. He has been serving as an administrator at the university for four years.

Briggs succeeds Dr. William Bynum, who was named the new president of Jackson State University by the College Board on May 31. On the same day, Bynum officially endorsed Briggs as the next president of Valley. Bynum’s official start date at Jackson State was July 1.

“Dr. Briggs has shown us student leadership. He’s gotten us involved. He’s shown us he wants to be engaged. He’s shown that he’s adjusting during the loss of a president,” added Lyric Nolden, another student.

Constituents say the university has witnessed a lack of sustainability in the president’s office. In 10 years, the university has processed two resignations, two interim presidents and two new presidents.

“Briggs is not brand new. He’s been here as long as Bynum. We deserve someone like him. Valley hasn’t had much success with presidents before Bynum,” said Troy Brown, alumni and community activist.

The university lost not only leadership over the years, but also some programming that faculty members hope the new president will consider bringing back.

Dr. Moses Newsmen, president of the faculty senate at Mississippi Valley State University, speaks about selection of a new school president at a campus listening session. Credit: Ashley FG Norwood, Mississippi Today

“We had a multicultural center on campus. Those centers provided research, services and awareness for other cultures on campus and the community. We want to bring that back, ” said Dr. Moses Newsome, Jr., president of the faculty senate.

In addition, the faculty senate at Valley agreed the next president should be a graduate of a historically black college or university and appreciate the culture of the Delta.

“The university sits on a cotton plot. The acceptance of that narrative and the willingness to preserve and protect it is important. Someone from another region cannot understand it. We need someone who will embrace the purpose the university was created in this community,” said Dr. Cassie Sade Turnipseed, assistant professor of history.

There is no timeline for the selection of the new president, said Hooper.

“We want to give everyone time to get back into school,” he said.

The College Board will reconvene for its monthly meeting Oct. 19 in the Institutes of Higher Learning board room in Jackson.

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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.