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Pioneering educator Nelson exits retirement to become JSU’s interim provost

L.A. Warren Newest Byline

Longtime academician Dr. Ivory V. Nelson, a three-time university president and one-time community college chancellor, has assumed the role of interim provost at Jackson State University.

The native of Shreveport, Louisiana, had retired to his Houston home in December 2011. He returned to the college scene at the behest of his protégé, new JSU President William B. Bynum Jr., who took the helm of the HBCU on July 1.

Dr. Ivory V. Nelson will serve as interim provost to support the academic endeavors of new Jackson State University President William B. Bynum Jr. With decades of experience in higher education and several former presidential roles, Nelson will assist in identifying a permanent person who will become second in command at the nation’s fourth-largest HBCU. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dr. Ivory V. Nelson is working as interim provost to support the academic endeavors of new Jackson State University President William B. Bynum Jr. With decades of experience in higher education and several former presidential roles, Nelson will assist in identifying a permanent person who will become second in command at the nation’s fourth-largest HBCU. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

“He’s the only one who could get me out of retirement to do this,” said Nelson, speaking admirably of Bynum. “I’m here to help with the current transition and assist in the search for a permanent provost. I will support the president in this academic endeavor wherever I can use my expertise and knowledge.”

In 2000, Nelson, then the 12th president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (1999-2011), hired Bynum as his vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. “He worked for me for nine years. We’ve had a great relationship over time,” said Nelson, 83.

He describes JSU as a phenomenal institution in terms of academic programs and prowess. He said he’s had two previous relationships with the nation’s current fourth-largest HBCU. Nelson was part of a review team for JSU’s re-accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in the 1970s and was among finalists for the presidency when Dr. James Hefner was ultimately selected in 1984.

At Lincoln, he displayed an extraordinary ability to turn the nation’s first degree-granting HBCU into a powerhouse institution after once being on the brink of collapse. During his tenure, he developed a five-year strategic plan for financing and phased construction that resulted in the elimination of operating deficits and repayment of outstanding loans and debts.

Ultimately, Lincoln was removed from financial aid probation, and Nelson secured $40.1 million in financing, $27 million in private financing and $290 million from the state of Pennsylvania for renovation and new construction.

Capping his career at Lincoln, the Board of Trustees named a $45 million building in his honor: The Ivory V. Nelson Science Center.

Prior to Lincoln, Nelson would become the first black president of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, from 1992 to 1999, and later president emeritus. During the early 1980s, he served as acting president of Prairie View A&M University for nine months.

A chemist and pioneering figure, Nelson began working in higher education in 1963. He’s known for other groundbreaking firsts.

Among these include:

  • First male graduate from Grambling State University to receive a Ph.D. (He graduated from Grambling in 1959 and received his doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Kansas, where he was the first black graduate from UK to receive such a degree in 1963)
  • First African-American to become chancellor of the Alamo Community College District in San Antonio, Texas (1986)
  • First black chemistry Ph.D. graduate to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Kansas (1964)
  • First African-American to become executive assistant to the chancellor of Texas A&M University System (1983)

Aside from being a graduate of an HBCU and working at Prairie View for 14 years, he spent three years at Southern University at Shreveport as chairman of the Division of Natural Sciences.

Also, Nelson is distinguished as a Fulbright scholar, recipient of a Phi Beta Kappa key and has published more than 12 technical articles on chemistry topics. As well, Nelson has been involved in numerous other fraternal organizations, including Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

While his lifelong career has been in academics, the U.S. Air Force veteran is quick to point out that running an educational institution is similar to a business.

“We have to make sure that what we do is efficient, quality, and everybody is on task and on time. We have to understand the importance of the business side. If the business side doesn’t work, then the academic side can’t work. You’ve got to have structure,” Nelson said.