A slim majority of the governing board for Mississippi’s eight public universities voted to allow Elayne Hayes-Anthony, Jackson State University’s temporary acting president, to apply for the permanent role.
According to executive session minutes released Wednesday, seven trustees voted for the motion and five voted against, including Dr. Steven Cunningham, the only Jackson State alumnus on the board and the trustee who is leading the university’s presidential search.
Cunningham, a Hattiesburg-based radiologist, told Mississippi Today that he didn’t want to dissuade outside candidates from applying for the role. In recent years, the IHL board has tended to hire interim presidents instead of conducting a full-blown national search at the state’s universities.
“I just didn’t want anybody to be scared off,” Cunningham told Mississippi Today.
The vacancy at Jackson State, a historically Black university and the largest university in Mississippi’s capital city, comes after Thomas Hudson, who had been interim before getting the permanent position, became the third president in a row to resign earlier this year.
Though Hayes-Anthony said she was interested in the permanent post shortly after the board appointed her to the temporary position in March, trustees did not vote to allow her to apply until June, the minutes show. She could not be reached for comment by press time.
If the board hires Hayes-Anthony, the Jackson native and former chair of the university’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies would be the third consecutive internal hire within the state’s universities system. The tenures of the past two presidents at Jackson State — William Bynum, Jr., who was hired from Mississippi Valley State University, and Hudson — both ended in resignation.
Cunningham said he was voting for a thorough national search.
“It all comes down to the process,” he said. “As long as the process is an even process.”
Earlier this week, the Jackson Advocate’s Ivory Phillips reported that IHL Commissioner Al Rankins said the presidential search committee is working to make a hire by the end of the calendar year. A high-profile alumnus and a previous applicant that was highly rated are among the current applicants.
Cunningham told Mississippi Today that the search committee has received about 45 applications and is expecting more by the Aug. 21 deadline.
At a March press conference, Hayes-Anthony said she would be in the role as long as she is needed.
She also acknowledged the board has imposed various stipulations on her role. She said she could hire and fire people in coordination with Rankins. An IHL spokesperson said the board has not placed more restrictions on Hayes-Anthony than any other temporary acting or interim president in the system.
Last month, Hayes-Anthony wrote in a campus-wide email that Brandi Newkirk-Turner, the associate provost, had been reassigned but would remain as a faculty member in the Department of Communicative Disorders. Newkirk-Turner was among the administrators who received a no-confidence vote from the faculty senate earlier this year.
Hours later, Hayes-Anthony sent another email that Newkirk-Turner’s reassignment had been rescinded and she would remain associate provost.
UPDATE 8/17/23: This story has been updated to include the IHL board response to restrictions on Elayne Hayes-Anthony as acting JSU president.