JACKSON Miss. – Jackson State University President Ronald Mason said Monday he’s leaving JSU with a better campus, a larger research budget and a stronger relationship with the local business community as he prepares to take a new job heading the Southern University System in Louisiana.
Speaking at a press luncheon in Jackson, Mason said he has no regrets about his decade leading Mississippi’s largest historically Black university.
Mason, 57, will leave JSU at the end of June. The Southern University System, based in Baton Rouge, La., oversees three academic campuses, a law school and an agricultural center. Like JSU, it is a public, historically Black institution.
Mason said when he started at JSU, there was a widespread belief on campus that the predominantly White local business community didn’t care about the university.
“It was sort of ‘the other Jackson,’” Mason said. “There’s kind of like two Mississippis, if you’re an outsider looking in. There’s a White Mississippi, there’s a Black Mississippi. And the business community, we thought, didn’t like Jackson State. But it really wasn’t the case at all. What it was, was that they just didn’t see Jackson State University. It just wasn’t part of the Mississippi that they saw.”
Mason said he worked to build relationships.
“One of the challenges that we had was that the business community had to accept the fact that Jackson State … could be the capital university of the state of Mississippi, but it didn’t have to be a White institution,” he said.
Mason spoke Monday in Jackson during a luncheon sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government.
Former Gov. William Winter, who attended the luncheon, said he remembered touring JSU campus and the surrounding neighborhoods with Mason a decade ago and listening to Mason talk about plans to revitalize the area.
“He painted a picture of what he wanted to do, and he’s done it,” Winter said Monday.
Mason angered some members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus earlier this year by preparing a document that discussed having the state’s three historically Black universities JSU, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State work as a unified system rather than as three separate entities.
Critics said Mason was playing into the hands of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who said in late 2009 that Mississippi should merge its eight public universities into five. One of Barbour’s proposals, quickly rejected by lawmakers, was to combine JSU, Alcorn and Valley.
Mason on Monday said he was talking about “unification” of universities, not mergers. He said there needs to be a serious discussion about the future of historically Black universities, decades after the end of legal segregation and he believes they’re important.
“I do believe that an institutional base to restore the human potential that has been institutionally suppressed of Black folk in Mississippi is something that is going to be good for the state, good for the future of the state,” Mason said.