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Friday, April 30, 2010

Southern taps JSU's Mason for top job

The president of Jackson State University in Mississippi was picked today to be the next president of the Southern University System.

Ronald Mason Jr. was selected on a vote of 14-2 by the Southern Board of Supervisors.

Mason was one of three finalists for the post. Leonard Haynes III, senior advisor in the U. S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education, got two votes for the job.

The selection followed interviews today of all three finalists. Also considered was Robert Jennings, former president of Alabama A & M University.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Payton takes Tuskegee to new heights

Since coming to Tuskegeee University in 1981 Benjamin Payton he has fostered innovation and academic excellence, playing a key role in helping the University become the outstanding institution of higher learning that it is today. Payton came to then Tuskeegee Institute during its 100th anniversary succeeding Luther Foster, who had served as president for 28 years.

Payton became only the fifth president in Tuskeegee's 129 year history, and his path to the presidency was an unlikely one. He program officer of higher education at the Ford Foundation in New York, NY, and after the search committee had already gone through over 300 applicants and couldn't find anyone they felt was the right fit to continue the the legacy of Booker T. Washinton and his three successors, they approached Payton.

After some cajoling by his mentor Benjamin Mays, Payton agreed to be considered. "He told me, 'You know, it won't hurt to have them review your resume,'" Payton, 77, recalled. "He also said 'It won't hurt you and it, won't hurt them.'"

When Payton arrived in Tuskegee in 1981, he knew a big job lay ahead in many areas, but he also was aware that the challenges confronting him paled in comparison with what Booker T. Washington faced when the school opened in 1881

From Institute to University
Replacing "Institute" with "University" was one of Payton's early moves. When an aide returned to campus from a student recruiting trip and told him about problems encountered at the college fair, he knew something had to be done.

"He said students would walk by the table he was at, take one look at the 'Tuskegee Institute' sign and keep walking," Payton said. "Some would stop long enough to say they wanted to go to a university, not a community college."

In 1982, a year after he assumed office, Payton learned first-hand what his recruiter had told him.

He was accompanying then-Vice President George Bush as an educational adviser to Africa and extended to West Germany, Bermuda and Cape Verde islands.

In an interview with Jet magazine, Payton said he found that those he talked to didn't know what kind of school Tuskegee was and often asked Bush why he picked someone from a "community college" as one of his key advisers.

Bush got so tired of hearing those comments that he eventually introduced Payton as president of "Tuskegee University." That quickly got the attention of those who might have dismissed Payton as someone from a small school without nationally known credentials.

It took a few years, but Payton's recommendation to his board of trustees eventually bore fruit and, in 1985, Tuskegee Institute became Tuskegee University.

It would be the beginning of many major changes and improvements on campus.

Much-needed face lifts came quickly, thanks to generous donations and grants. Deteriorating buildings were torn down and replaced with modern dormitories and classroom structures while beautification projects turned the eyes of visitors accustomed to more drab surroundings.

Once his feet were firmly on the ground and he had the solid backing of trustees, Payton launched one project after another and Tuskegee University's star rose higher and higher.

He saw to it that the school, with an enrollment of about 3,000 students, never had problems with accreditation. He restructured TU's academic programs into five colleges, initiated the school's first doctoral programs and led the way for development of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Capital campaigns that at times lagged behind optimistic goals soared past them under his leadership with more than $200 million raised. Two of his proudest accomplishments involved establishment of an aerospace science and engineering program and development of a national center for bioethics research and health care.

The bioethics facility, which is housed in a former hospital, came as a commitment from then-President Clinton, who issued a national apology for a controversial study of syphilis-infected men from Tuskegee and Macon County.

"It was a monstrous thing to do," Payton said. "People call it the 'Tuskegee Experiment,' but, it wasn't Tuskegee that did it, it was the United States Public Health Service and it went on for 40 years. The apology was long overdue."

Payton said the result of the study, the apology and the aftermath was a national policy that no experimentation could be done with human beings without that person's consent.

His drive to support doctoral programs has attracted the best and brightest students in the country. They focus on materials science and engineering as well as integrated biosciences.

Those two academic disciplines might be a bit over the heads of people without a clear understanding of basic math, but for Tuskegee University, it put the school on a level with the top schools in America.

"It was clear to me that if Tuskegee University was going to come into its own, it must reach for the stars and seek to be the best in sculpting out new areas of instruction," he said. "It was important to pick areas where we were already strong and engineering was one of them."

Asked if he ever thought he'd spend as much time as he has at Tuskegee University, he broke into a big smile.

"I didn't think of it in terms of time," he said, in a rich baritone voice cultivated through years of public speaking and, as a young man, occasional theatrical work. "I've always been mission-driven, hoping I could make significant contributions in the position that I occupied."

It's also his belief that it doesn't matter how long anyone stays at a job, "it's how effective you are in what you're doing."

"Actually, there was just so much to do that I forgot about the time," he said. "My years here have been driven by a sense of strategic moves in forwarding the development of this university."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Southern finalist down to three

The search for a new Southern University System (SUS) president has been narrowed down to three. Tuesday, SUS interviewed four candidates in public interviews and expects to select a new president on April 30.

The three finalist in rank order are Ronald Mason, president, Jackson State University; Leonard Haynes, III, senior adviser, U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Edcuation, and Robert Jennings, former president, Alabama A&M University.

The search committee is expected to meet with each of the candidates individually, and before deciding on a new leader to oversee Southern's three campuses, law school and agricultural center. The main campus is in Baton Rouge.

Friday, April 09, 2010

JSU President throws is hat in the ring for Southern top job

Ronald Mason,Jr. president of Jackson State University is one of two new applicants to lead the Southern University System.

Clarence Newsome, the former president of Shaw University in North Carolina is the other.

The Southern president search committee still must screen their experience and backgrounds before it is certain that Mason or Newsome will be interviewed Tuesday, said Murphy Bell Jr., search committee co-chairman.

“They both have some exciting credentials,” Bell said.

Southern’s stated goal is to choose a new president by the end of April. Interviews were originally scheduled for this week, but were postponed until Tuesday. Bell said it is possible more could still apply.

Mason has headed Jackson State one of Southern’s top rivals for 10 years. The public Mississippi college, along with Southern, is one of the nation’s largest historically black colleges and enrolls nearly 9,000 students.

Mason is currently embroiled in controversy over his support of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to merge Jackson State, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University into one historically black college.

In November, Barbour proposed the merger. Then in January, The Clarion-Ledger obtained a presentation by Mason supporting a merger similar to Barbour’s plan.

He (Mason) has done a lot of impressive things at Jackson State,” Bell said, declining comment on the merger proposal by calling it a Mississippi issue.

At Shaw, Newsome resigned last year with Shaw in the midst of an ongoing financial crisis and more than $20 million in university debt.

Shaw, a private college, has more than 2,500 students.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Southern U. System president search delayed

Southern University is delaying its president candidate interviews until next week in anticipation of new applicants and concerns about the state’s spending freeze on travel, university officials said Monday.

The interviews were scheduled for today.

Southern Board of Supervisors Chairman Tony Clayton said he still have a new system president selected by the end of April.

Interviews are now scheduled for all day April 13 on campus.

Five candidates have made have been advanced to the interview stage. Clayton said he expects at least three more to join the field by then. He declined to give names.

The five candidates scheduled for interviews are:

Carolyn Meyers, outgoing president of Norfolk State University in Virginia.
Leonard Haynes III, senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.
Robert Jennings, former president of Alabama A&M University in Normal, Ala.
Marvin Yates, Southeastern Louisiana University vice president for student affairs.
Yates is a former Southern University chancellor, and Haynes was a Southern executive in the 1980s who has previously applied for the president position.

Ironically, the delay could end up costing Southern more money because of short notice in canceling or postponing travel plans.

Search committee co-chair Murphy Bell emphasized that no one else has officially applied, except for Southern professor and former agriculture dean Leroy Davis. Bell said it is not decided if Davis will be interviewed.

Southern University System spokeswoman Katara Williams also confirmed, “they’re still talking to people. There are some more people who may potentially apply.”

The Southern University System oversees three academic campuses, a law school and an agricultural center.

Kassie Freeman, who has not applied, is serving as interim president.