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Jackson State President Among Candidates Vying To Lead Southern University

BATON ROUGE, La. – The president of Jackson State University in Mississippi is one of two new applicants to lead the Southern University System.

JSU President Ronald Mason Jr. and Clarence Newsome, the former president of Shaw University in North Carolina, are the two latest applicants to join the pool of four semifinalists scheduled to interview Tuesday on campus, Southern officials said Thursday.

But the Southern president search committee still must screen their experience and backgrounds before it is certain that Mason and Newsome also 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 last 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 though 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 in Jackson obtained a presentation by Mason supporting a merger similar to Barbour’s plan.

Mason called the consolidated school Jacobs State University, after H.P Jacobs, a former slave and a founder of Jackson State. Mason’s preliminary plan was Jackson State as a graduate campus and Alcorn and Mississippi Valley as undergraduate feeder campuses. He has contended a merger is the best way to save historically Black universities in Mississippi.

“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.

Last year, Mason was picked as one of 11 university leaders on the White House’s national advisory board for historically Black colleges.

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.

The four Southern president candidates currently 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.

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

The applicants are vying to replace former President Ralph Slaughter, whose contract ended in June and remains in litigation with Southern.

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

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