The governing board of Mississippi’s eight public universities has been planning to announce the next permanent president of Jackson State University on Oct. 23, according to a timeline of the search that was obtained through a public records request. 

A spokesperson for the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees wrote in an email that the timeline was not published because it was subject to change but that a search committee “is still on target to complete the search this fall.” 

The timeline was prepared by Academic Search, the executive headhunting firm that IHL contracted to help find a permanent leader at Jackson State, which has had an interim appointment since earlier this year when Thomas Hudson became the third president in a row to resign in a seven-year period. 

It sheds some light on the generally secretive process used by the trustees who comprise the board’s search committee. This fall, the committee has met twice to deliberate behind closed doors and has not shared any general updates from those meetings with the public. 

When the committee met in August, the timeline shows that trustees were supposed to “select candidates for initial interviews” along with consultants from Academic Search. Trustees then conducted those initial interviews, winnowing the candidates’ list, at the committee’s most recent meeting in August. 

But IHL provided little information to Mississippi Today when the news organization repeatedly asked for more information about the outcome of each closed-door meeting, such as if the agency could confirm that trustees had selected semi-finalists. 

“The Board of Trustees received 79 applications for the position of President of Jackson State University,” spokesperson Kim Gallaspy wrote in an email in September. The Board values confidentiality for all applicants and will not comment further at this time.”

While many alumni have known for a while that IHL plans to announce its pick in October, the draft timeline shows the board began conducting “due diligence and referencing” this week with plans to interview finalists on Oct. 18. 

That “due diligence” is a huge sticking point for many in the community who at listening sessions earlier this year begged trustees to ensure the next president of Jackson State will be there for the long haul and grow the largest historically Black university in Mississippi. 

Other emails obtained by Mississippi Today show how Academic Search, the search committee and campus leaders who were appointed by trustees to advise them worked to create a “leadership profile” to market the university to potential applicants. 

The profile is an informational packet about Jackson State, its history, accomplishments and goals. It also lists desired characteristics and qualifications for potential applicants, such as “record of successful executive-level leadership at a complex organization” and “doctoral degree from an accredited institution is preferred.”

On June 12, a senior consultant from Academic Search named William Kibler sent a draft of the profile to Al Rankins, the IHL commissioner, and Steven Cunningham, who was appointed by former Gov. Phil Bryant and is the board’s only Jackson State alumnus.  Rankins’ staff had fact-checked it, so after Cunningham reviewed the document, Kibler was then to send the profile to the search advisory constituency.

A day later, the only feedback from Cunningham provided in writing was conveyed to Kibler by Gallapsy: The trustee had an issue with a section under “university leadership and governance” that was a biography of the university’s temporary acting president, Elayne Hayes-Anthony. 

“Dr. Cunningham would like to remove the section about the interim leadership,” Gallaspy wrote. 

It was removed. Gallaspy didn’t provide a reason why, but Cunningham, a Hattiesburg-based who later voted against allowing Hayes-Anthony to apply for the permanent role, told Mississippi Today he didn’t want to dissuade outside candidates from applying for the role. 

In an email, Cunningham echoed that sentiment, writing, “Just didn’t think it was appropriate to discuss the interim person in a profile/ description of the job for which you’re advertising.”

The next step in the profile’s development was to send it to the search advisory committee of campus leaders, which included faculty and staff representatives, the president of the student government association, a member of the Jackson State University Development Foundation and the athletic director. 

Alisa Mosley, the provost, was asked to serve on the committee, but she declined, according to a June 20 email from an IHL executive assistant. She did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

Then the profile was sent to trustees serving on the search committee. The only trustee who responded in writing, Bruce Martin, suggested the president of his alma mater, Mississippi State University, could be a good model for Jackson State. Martin also did not respond to an inquiry.

“God knows Jackson need (sic) leadership and help from all sources,” he wrote. “I see Mark (Keenum) doing this in Starkville and Meridian just to name a few. I suspect I may be out of line here so please put me in my place!”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.