ITTA BENA Miss.
It was a pivotal moment in the 56-year history of Mississippi
Valley State University.
One of its own had been chosen as interim president to lead
the school past the tenure of Lester Newman.
“I have never seen this kind of vibe on campus, like a
big, happy birthday party,” said senior Emmitt Riley III,
incoming student body vice president.
Roy Hudson, the unanimous choice of the state College Board,
received a five-minute standing ovation July 9 as he announced the decision to
students, faculty and staff.
tenure began Monday, said he will make students the primary focus of his first
month at the helm. He will not say whether he will pursue the job permanently.
He was interviewed for the position in March 1998 before the board selected
Newman. If he applies and is selected as the permanent leader, he would be the
first alumnus to head the school.
The board has not decided when or how it will continue with
the presidential search, said Annie Mitchell, spokeswoman for the state College
Board. It will not meet again until Aug. 15.
The board will not comment further until the terms of the
search are decided, Mitchell said.
Newman, the target of a February no-confidence vote in the
Faculty Senate, drew ire from many at the university. He announced his
resignation in late June.
Newman would not comment about his plans or his departure
from the historically black school he led for nine years.
Hudson, a Valley alumnus and longtime professor and
administrator at the university, will make $183,750 annually in the interim
position, just as Newman did, Mitchell said.
It is now time to “bring people together and move
forward with the healing process,” said Francis Showi, president of the
Faculty Senate, a fierce Newman critic and a professor of applied technology
and technology management.
And cooperation will be essential to the success of this
effort, said Emmanuel Ngwang, an associate professor of English.
“The president alone cannot run the university because
low morale trickles down to the deans, to the professors, to the
students,” he said. “For the healing process to begin, the president
must work with his colleagues.”
Though Showi credits Newman with bringing academic programs,
renovated buildings and more students to the Itta Bena campus, he said Newman
did not listen enough to faculty and student concerns.
The new president should take note of the numerous faculty
grievances laid out in a thick April 20 report, Showi said, keeping in mind
long-term goals of increased student achievement and higher retention rates.
“We need a good leader who will meet the problems
ahead, meet them in a professional manner and make sure they listen to the
faculty and staff,” he said, suggesting an open-door policy for all
students and faculty.
William Woods Jr., a senior business administration major
from Memphis, agreed, saying, “Everybody in the entire administration
needs to be more open with students, more available.”
Hudson will make it easier to trust the administration
again, Woods said, though it will take time either way.
“Since we know him and are familiar with him, it won’t
take as long as it might have if someone had just come into the
university,” he said.
Showi agreed, saying a permanent Hudson presidency would
“work well” from a faculty perspective. “The faculty feels that
since he knows the problems and has been here since 1973, he might be best able
to resolve the problems,” he said.
Others, including Itta Bena Mayor Thelma Collins, echoed
that sentiment, but Hudson said he prefers to focus on his current goal progress.
“I’m not trying to eliminate anything,” he said.
“I’m not trying to erase what has been done. I’m trying to take what is
here and move forward with it.”
Students, his immediate concern, depend on the university to
run effective admissions and financial aid operations, Hudson said, and the
university must work to create a “conducive learning environment”
before the fall semester arrives.
“If we send one product out into this world, it is our
students, and there are a lot of different steps that determine the quality of
that product,” he said, citing student activities, student counseling,
instructor-student relationships and the academic advisement system as
Hudson, who has advised other universities in their
restructuring efforts, also said he will tell the board as soon as possible his
plans for potential administrative changes.
“I’m not going to do anything radical, but we need to
realize that, as a small institution, we have to work with our resources and
gain efficiency in any way we can,” he said.
Newman’s plans for restructuring the university had been put
on hold, but Hudson said he would review them.
“You have to take into account what it is about people
that drives the system,” he said. “People have differences different
administrative styles, different personalities, different talents and skills.
You try to find the best fit for the best person.”
Though he will not discuss his own future, Hudson
does not hesitate to move beyond August to discuss the long-term goals of the
Valley has done a good job recruiting students from outside
the Delta, but those efforts should increase, Hudson
“Sometimes it seems as if our contiguous counties are Chicago,
St. Louis and Detroit,”
he said, but 75-80 percent of Valley students still come from the Delta.
Hudson also said
he would like to see the racial makeup of the student body diversify some more,
suggesting the university use athletics to do so.
Sports teams have been used in the past to attract black
students, and they could be used to attract students of other races to Valley, Hudson
said, citing the university’s mostly white soccer team.
“You have to use what you have to create
diversity,” he said, adding the school must attract a “critical
mass” of students before others feel at home.
“People do have certain associations, certain groups
they feel more comfortable in,” he said. “We want to make this a
comfortable campus for all students.”
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,
– Associated Press
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