The official announcement Tuesday of Thomas Hudson’s resignation as Jackson State University president drew mixed reaction from students, faculty and alumni.
The 7 p.m. press release from the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees came on the second day of JSU’s spring break. Many people were confused, but not surprised, by the news, and felt it was the writing on the wall after Hudson was placed on administrative leave earlier this month.
“When I was told about it last night, I was like, wait, we already knew about that,” said Thomas Kersen, a sociology professor. “But when I stepped back, I was like, yeah that’s a little bit different than him being put on leave.”
So far, a spokesperson for the board had declined to answer questions about the circumstances that led to Hudson being placed on leave, saying only that it was a “personnel matter.” It is unclear if the board will provide more information now that Hudson has resigned, though trustees will discuss “the future leadership of Jackson State” at their regularly scheduled board meeting next week.
Kathy Sykes, a JSU alumnus and former state representative, said the board should tell the community why Hudson resigned as a matter of accountability. Hudson is JSU’s second president in three years; when the board selects his replacement, Sykes said she doesn’t want trustees to make “the same mistake” again.
“There’s a lot of speculation,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to go on speculation. We need the facts … so we can steer away from whatever it is that led to his ouster.”
Elijah Karriem, a senior and the secretary of JSU’s NAACP chapter, said students were shocked to hear that Hudson was the third president in a row to resign.
“We are all anxiously waiting for the facts as to why our president resigned,” Karriem said. “As students, we hear the chatter about why we think he left, but everything right now is hearsay and not factual.”
Other community members are hoping to put this episode in the university’s history behind them.
“That chapter is now closed,” said Don Spann, a visiting assistant professor in the journalism department. “Whatever is this personnel matter, at some point in time maybe it’ll be revealed, but it’s not like I really need to know.”
Spann, a member of the Faculty Senate executive leadership, said he is looking forward to working with Elayne Hayes-Anthony, the former chair of the journalism department who IHL appointed temporary acting president.
“My concern now is how to continue to move Jackson State forward, that’s the most important thing,” he said.
Earlier this year, Spann and other faculty senators voted “no confidence” in Hudson and four members of his administration, citing a “continuous pattern of failing to respect” shared governance and other professional norms of higher education. While Hudson is gone, the four administrators named in the resolution are still at JSU.
It’s unclear if or how Hayes-Anthony will address the faculty senate’s resolution. And it remains to be seen how long she will be in the role. She told students, faculty and members of the media last week that IHL had given her no timetable. Another open question is whether the board will conduct a national search for JSU’s next president or appoint Hayes-Anthony to a more permanent role like it did with Hudson.
Hudson was named acting president in early 2020, then elevated to a more permanent role at the end of that year following an expedited search. A search committee of community members was not appointed for Hudson.
Still, many community members were excited about Hudson at the time. Because he was a JSU alumnus, many felt that his appointment was more appropriate than his predecessor’s (William Bynum). Now some of those same people are unhappy about the abrupt end to Hudson’s tenure.
“I don’t know the details of why he resigned but I’m saddened by it,” said George Flaggs, the mayor of Vicksburg and a prominent alumnus. “I thought he was leading the university in the most progressive way one could.”
A member of the 2017 presidential search committee that protested William Bynum Jr.’s appointment, Flaggs is no stranger to disagreeing with IHL’s decisions.
But in Hudson’s case, Flaggs said he understood the board could not say more about a personnel matter even though he generally believes government bodies in Mississippi should be transparent.
“I trust that those people that are on the College Board are intellectual enough to make a good, common judgment about what’s good for these universities that will continue to allow us to move forward,” Flaggs said. “Now having said that, we cannot and they cannot pick perfect people.”
Many faculty don’t feel that way. They are more distrustful of the IHL board due in part to its history of underfunding historically Black universities in Mississippi.
Kersen said it doesn’t help that the IHL board is secretive about the process it uses to select the presidents. He had opposed Hudson’s appointment because he wanted the board to conduct a full-fledged national search.
“We seem to be in a constant state of confusion about things,” Kersen said. “I just hope one day that we can have more determination in our own fate.”
Though he is frustrated, Kersen said the turnover in leadership has had little effect on his day-to-day work.
“We just make the whole thing work in spite of whatever they (trustees) do,” he said. “Somehow the big machine that is the university just makes do. People do their jobs, more or less. But it has a downturn on morale when you’re not appreciated and when your voice is not heard.”
Sykes said the turnover in leadership hurts JSU’s big-picture goals, like building new dormitories on campus, upgrading its football stadium or becoming the first HBCU to attain top-tier research status.
“I hope that IHL has learned from their past decisions and that they will this time take into strong consideration (what) the other stakeholders, such as the community and alumni, have to say about who’s gonna lead our great institution,” she said.
Open Campus HBCU Student Journalism Network Fellow Alivia Welch contributed to this story.