BATON ROUGE, La. – Five semifinalists for the Southern University System presidency stated their cases Tuesday for why they should lead the nation’s only historically Black college system.
From Jackson State University President Ronald Mason Jr. to former Southern University Chancellor Marvin Yates, each candidate interviewed publicly on campus for nearly an hour.
The Southern Board of Supervisors’ stated goal is to choose a new president by the end of April.
Candidates addressed everything from controversies in their personal careers to how to solve significant budgetary problems at Southern that are ever-present in colleges throughout the state and much of the nation.
Mason, the first person interviewed, admitted it might be a “little unusual” for a sitting president to seek another position. But he argued that Southern represents a great opportunity because of its tradition and “candidly untapped” potential.
Mason previously worked for Tulane University.
Dr. Carolyn Meyers, the outgoing president of Norfolk State University in Virginia with a background in engineering, argued she would boost graduation rates and academic quality at Southern just as she has at Norfolk.
During times of budget cuts, she said that she would protect the “academic enterprise” but that she also supports “cutting a little more so you have some flex room.”
Dr. Leonard Haynes III, senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, painted himself as true Jaguar blue and gold as a Southern legacy and graduate.
Haynes was a Southern University System executive vice president in the 1980s. He also served as interim president at Grambling State University in 1997 and 1998.
Haynes was among the candidates seeking to clarify the true role of the system president and whether the president or the chancellor of the main Baton Rouge campus is the go-to person. He said the president should set the course.
The Southern University System oversees three academic campuses, a law school and an agricultural center.
Following Haynes, Dr. Robert Jennings, the former president of Alabama A&M University, said he is the best person for Southern, calling himself the best fundraiser, planner, political liaison and the hardest worker.
“I will take the Southern University System to new levels of excellence,” Jennings said.
Southern also plans to interview Clarence Newsome, the former president of Shaw University in North Carolina, but the interview is still being scheduled.
The six applicants are vying to replace former President Ralph Slaughter, whose contract ended in June and remains in litigation with Southern.
Dr. Kassie Freeman, who is not an applicant, is serving as interim president.