Jackson State University President William Bynum Jr. conducted his first official media conference Friday since taking the helm as JSU’s 11th chief executive by sharing his three foundational tenets and addressing questions about the institution’s finances, enrollment, accreditation and layoffs.
The self-described “God-loving, God-fearing, blessed and highly favored” leader who began July 1 said there’s still a lot to be discovered and dealt with since being hired; however, the three things that will remain consistent involve the three pillars of his leadership style: student-centeredness; teamwork and collegiality; and the pursuit of excellence.”
Speaking to a crowd of mostly media, staff and a few community constituents in the Welcome Center of the main campus, Bynum emphasized that his top “uncompromising” focus will be on students, making sure their best interests and needs are taken into account.
“Students are the reason we exist.” He said the university will do everything in its power to guarantee students receive a return on their investment. “We will come up with certain indicators of student success – whether that’s enrollment, retention, graduation rates or job placement.”HE said his second focus will be on teamwork and collegiality, with JSU working across divisional lines so constituency groups are talking on the same page. “There will be a sense of shared goals and objectives so that we’re not doing desperate things that do not fit our goals and objectives because together we can, together we will.” It’s a mantra that he declared will be recited repeatedly and adhered to consistently.
His third pillar is the pursuit of excellence, which involves raising the bar. He said the good thing about higher education is that “we basically get to do the same thing each and every year just with a different group of students. Because of that, there is no reason we shouldn’t do it better each and every year. We can’t be complacent with what we’ve done before.”‘Students are the reason we exist.’ — JSU President William Bynum Jr.Bynum, who previously was president of Mississippi Valley State University, said he expects an assessment from students, employees and alumni whenever there is a program or academic offering so that new ideas can be incorporated that will help the institution thrive.
He sought to debunk any negative thoughts about JSU’s financial future.
“We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to have a tough year or two in terms of tightening our belts the way we do with our own personal budget and personal household accounts.”
Still, there were questions about lingering state budget cuts.
“The state is facing some tough times in terms of its own revenue projections,” he said. “Over the past three years, we’ve had a number of budget cuts. … We know in this particular budget cycle the legislature has been extremely conservative. The state went back a couple times to make adjustments. That’s why we’ve gotten an additional decrease in budget,” which he described as a “moving target.”HE said JSU would be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars whatever it receives in state allocation. In addition, he vowed that JSU would continue lobbying alumni, friends and legislators because “at the end of the day, those challenges will continue.”
Asked about raising private dollars, Bynum said, “The first part of fundraising is friend-raising, getting out and about and letting people touch and feel and hear from me about my vision and commitment. … We’re going to get out and meet a bunch of folks, talk to people and interact with them. I’ve already had an opportunity to visit five alumni chapters and four churches. We will continue getting out in the corporate and business communities. … The hard part of fundraising is making sure you match up and create a win-win situation.”
As well, he said JSU will work with the federal government and different agencies for future opportunities, and we will push faculty even harder in those endeavors.
Then, there were questions about the success of JSU’s newly implemented budget and recovery plan.
Bynum acknowledged the mammoth yet successful task of his predecessor, former interim President Dr. Rod Paige, and the administrative team for the “heavy lifting” and difficult decisions about reductions.
“When you’re freezing 60 positions and cutting 40-something positions it’s one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make as an administrator. It was a good example of shared governance. Nothing that I will do in the short term will change any of those things that the governing group put into effect,” said Bynum while dismissing concerns about university accreditation.
He said JSU is on solid ground with the accrediting body of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).FURTHERMORE, he said, there will be times when JSU will revisit decisions in the recovery plan. “The main thing is to make sure the budget is in a good place, and we truly won’t know that until the end of September.” He said that’s when there will be a clearer picture about enrollment in the fall as well as developing projections for the following spring.
Bynum admits that early indicators show some enrollment decline, especially with changes in scholarship policies. Despite this, he said the size of the freshman class will be similar to what it has been in previous years.Bynum is excited about new student orientation, the upcoming football season and meeting with student groupsBynum also addressed salary reductions and changes resulting from a transition in leadership. He said some changes were implemented to fit his leadership style and level of passion. “You’ll see a few more changes as we continue to learn through discovery and assess different areas and different personnel” – with the university unable to comment on the latter, he said.
For now, Bynum is also focused on building alumni support.
He’s developed a “strong working relationship” with the president of the Jackson State University National Alumni Association, Yolanda Owens. “She was the first person to greet me and my wife to the JSU family. We’re all working for the betterment of Jackson State University. I’ve visited several alumni chapters, and she’s joined me on a few of those visits.”
Owens and Bynum are in constant contact. “I was on the phone last week with the executive board and all the chapter presidents (about 50 people on the phone), and I updated them on what was going on about organizational changes, financial challenges and how we’re going to be working henceforth. We’re going to continue to meet and talk about shared goals and shared ideas,” said Bynum, who plans to include alumni in the crafting of his strategic plan.
On another upbeat note, Bynum said he’s looking forward to students returning to school this fall because of the liveliness and energy they bring to the campus.‘I am thankful that the good Lord put me on this earth to do exactly what I need to do each and every day and that is to work with young people and their families who are seeking a higher education. … I can’t tell you how pumped I get each and every day when I wake up and how excited I am to know that what I’m doing could affect a young man or a young woman in achieving their own ultimate goal, and that’s a college degree,” he said.
“There’s nothing like the start of new student orientation and being able to look into those eyes of young freshmen … and seeing their hopes, dreams and aspirations. I’m also extremely excited about the upcoming football season and tailgating.” Bynum said he is also anxious to meet with more student groups.
The offbeat question during the press conference dealt with his choice of neckties.
Bynum displayed his quick wit and evoked laughter when asked whether his blue tie was new, remarking “Yes. It’s easier to shop for blue (JSU color) than green” – which is one of the colors of his previous employer (MVSU Delta Devils) – a perennial JSU rival.
In fact, Bynum stated firmly that he’s fully channeling his “Thee I love” spirit.