Delta State University's new president, Daniel J. Ennis, speaks with students and staff at E.R. Jobe Hall on Delta State's campus, where he was introduced to students and faculty, Thursday, April 6, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The new president of Delta State University was appointed with a split vote by the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees, a rare occurrence from the governing board that typically projects an organized, unified front. 

Daniel Ennis, the longtime South Carolina educator who will take the reins at Delta State in June, was even shot down by Teresa Hubbard, the board’s only DSU alumnus and the trustee who led the presidential search committee. The vote was 7-4 with one trustee absent, according to board meeting minutes

But Hubbard and other trustees who opposed Ennis did not want to elaborate on why at IHL’s regular board meeting on Thursday. 

READ MORE: IHL names Daniel J. Ennis next president of Delta State

“No, I’m not gonna do that,” said Trustee Chip Morgan, a retired executive vice president of Delta Council, when asked to comment. “It’s a personnel matter. I’m very supportive of making certain that he is very successful.”

Trustee Gregg Rader declined a request for comment, and Trustee Jeanne Luckey could not be reached because she attended the board meeting virtually. 

Hubbard, who introduced Ennis to campus earlier this month with a complimentary speech, said he has her “complete support.” But she wouldn’t speak to what, if anything, led her to become publicly supportive of Ennis since her no-vote during executive session in late March. 

“We were fortunate in having a tremendous number of qualified candidates,” Hubbard told Mississippi Today. “I felt that way from the beginning. I just think we had a large pool of very qualified candidates, and it was a very difficult decision because there were so many strong candidates for the position.” 

Ennis was one of 59 applicants, six semi-finalists and two finalists, according to an IHL spokesperson. The board undertook a national search to fill the role at Delta State, a regional college in the Mississippi Delta, with the support of Academic Search, an executive headhunting firm. 

He will make $320,000, a slight bump over the $300,000-salary that the current interim president, E.E. “Butch” Caston, is making. Hubbard and Morgan did not attend a special-called meeting, held four days after they did not vote to approve Ennis, that was held to discuss his future salary and moving expenses, according to board meeting minutes

As to whether the other finalist was a Delta State alumnus, Hubbard said “that’s one of the things we don’t discuss.”

At the IHL meeting, Caston thanked the trustees for appointing Ennis and said that Delta State is looking forward to him. 

“The excitement on campus and in the community is out the top,” Caston said, “I can speak to the board: Job well done.” 

The community at Delta State was split on if the next president should be a graduate. Ennis’ hiring is also unusual for IHL because he is not an alumnus. In recent years, IHL has made it an increasing priority to hire graduates of its universities. Ennis is the first non-alumnus the board has selected for president since 2017. 

Ennis will be the sole president who was not unanimously appointed by trustees, according to board meeting minutes. 

Last fall, trustees unanimously voted to suspend the search for president at the University of Southern Mississippi and elevate Joe Paul, then the interim president, to a permanent post. Trustees also unanimously appointed Thomas Hudson, the recently resigned president of Jackson State University. Even University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce, whose selection sparked protests on campus, was unanimously appointed

In a text, Ennis did not say if he had any insight to share into the trustees’ unusual split vote but wrote that “IHL has been tremendously supportive since I was named DSU’s next president.” 

“I’m coming from South Carolina,” he texted. “Around here you can’t get twelve people to agree on whether the evening meal is called ‘dinner’ or ‘supper.’” 

“Perhaps the headline for your article should be ‘So musical a discord’ — a line from my favorite play,” he added. “Shakespeare himself knew that unanimity wasn’t terribly interesting.” 

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Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.