Dozens at JSU Day at the Capitol on Thursday were delighted the state Senate recently passed an $8.5 million bond bill to renovate Stewart Hall and that action is planned to offset a decrease in Ayers funding and add HBCU representation on the College Board of the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL).
Several state Democratic and Republican lawmakers met with Jackson State University President William B. Bynum Jr. at the event organized by the Jackson State University National Alumni Association (JSUNAA).
Elected officials assured Bynum of their support of the urban institution’s legislative agenda. Some legislators also mentioned the four impending vacancies on the College Board and have petitioned Gov. Phil Bryant on JSU’s behalf.BYNUM said, “JSU Day at the Capitol is all about making sure that we recognize the city’s only public urban research university.” Referencing to the school’s colors, he said, “It’s extremely important for folks to see all this blue and white to remind them that we are an important part of this city and state. We are very thankful for the resources lawmakers have provided in the past, present and what they’ll do in the future.”
“We’re here to say we’re going to be good stewards of the appropriation. With additional resources and investment in Jackson State, you’ll see us enhance the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi.”
Yolanda Owens, president of the JSUNAA, was eager to put JSU in the spotlight.
“We knew we needed to get back to the Capitol after not having this event for a couple years. So, we were excited to be part of revitalizing JSU Day at the Capitol. We got a chance to speak to several senators and representatives. Everyone was supportive that we’re here,” Owens said.FURTHERMORE, Owens said, “We know housing is a major issue, and there are four openings coming up on the IHL board. We are working diligently to make sure that at least one of the public HBCUs in the state is represented on the board. … We are working with our legislators and the political action team with the alumni association to make sure we have viable candidates that we can present to the governor,” she said.
GOP state Sen. Josh Harkins, chairman of the Universities and Colleges Committee, said, “I welcome the opportunity to work with Dr. Bynum. He’s done a great job in his role prior to coming to JSU. I know he’ll continue doing a great job at JSU.”
JSU officials have submitted three legislative requests to enhance the university’s ability in serving the community:
- $3.28 million is being requested to sustain staffing and operations for the School of Public Health, including a partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center and other health-care entities to combat health threats.
- $8.5 million is sought for Stewart Hall renovation that when completed will provide 190 additional spaces for males on campus. Quoting research, JSU says this is especially important because students who reside on campus are far more likely to graduate than those who live off campus.
- $12.5 million is eyed for expanding the College of Education and Human Development into Jackson Public Schools and throughout the state. JSU seeks to modernize and expand into a state-of-the-art facility for its 2,500 majors.
“It’s not acceptable for students to be in non-owned housing by the university or private housing. Our students need to be in JSU-owned property,” Fillingane said. “There’s also a second piece of language that repurposes some additional dollars that had previously been designated or earmarked for certain projects at JSU.”
Democratic state Sen. David Blount, chairman of the Senate Public Property Committee, explained the financial quagmire that JSU faces.
“Ayers funding is fading out,” said Blount, acknowledging that JSU faces a “cut on top of a cut” because a recent budget bill that the Senate passed already calls for a slice in appropriations. In my opinion that’s short-sighted,” he said. “The cut is more severe if you’ve been getting Ayers funding. This is something that all of us are working on.”AS property chairman, Blount said he’s especially interested in structural buildings on all college campuses.
“I’m on Jackson State’s campus regularly, and the Stewart Hall project is in the bond bill that passed the Senate. … The bill does include money for Stewart Hall,” he said.
The issue of HBCU representation on the IHL College Board has widespread support from the Black Legislative Caucus and bipartisan endorsement from colleagues in both chambers.
Democratic state Sen. John Horhn, a JSU alum, said, “We have a good chance to get a public HBCU graduate on the board, and it may be from Jackson State.”
He said the university’s presence was felt inside the Capitol and told the crowd that “we want you to know that this important university is doing great work, and it has a very critical role that it continues to play in our capital city.”
Harkins added, “I’m going to work with Dr. (Glenn) Boyce to make sure we get across to these new members that while everybody comes from somewhere that you first check your colors in at the door.” As well, he said, “This is about our state, the survivability, the well-being of all institutions whether you went to (Mississippi) State, Ole Miss, Jackson State, Alcorn, Delta State, the W, wherever. We are about making our institutions of higher learning successful.”
Democratic state Rep. Christopher Bell, another JSU alum, echoed sentiments about the importance of JSU’s success.
“Jackson State is in my heart. We are fighting for our people. Education is first and foremost. We can’t have a workforce that’s uneducated. … We are the state that’s on the bottom for most everything that’s good. My goal is to change that. We can’t have significant change in a direction unless you have support from the leadership. One thing we’re doing is helping them understand the plight of our people.”
Bell was among several African-American state Democratic lawmakers who addressed Bynum, JSU alum and other supporters. Sen. Sollie B. Norwood, Sen. Derrick Simmons and Rep. Angela Cockerham all vowed to continue being strong advocates for their alma mater. They also plan to nudge Bryant as JSU seeks IHL board representation.VERONICA Cohen, vice president of JSU’s Institutional Advancement and External Affairs, knows the relevance of Jackson State as an urban research institution. She said it’s vital that supporters show up in force at the state Capitol.
Cohen said, “It’s also important that they know who we are and what we stand for because we have a great university, and we need funds from the state to continue producing great results.”
Although the path ahead isn’t easy, she expresses strong optimism about JSU’s lobbying efforts.
“We’re getting ready to step down from Ayers funding, so we have to petition the legislators that we need to cover those funds … and we’re looking for funds to renovate one of our residential halls,” Cohen said.
“Overall, JSU Day at the Capitol was a huge success, with more than 160 people. Our alumni gathered in massive numbers, along with legislators. Everything is for our students – from what we do in Institutional Advancement to branding to raising funds. Legislators have been very impressed with our presence.”
Also, Cohen said several JSU faculty, staff and students showcased their respective areas. The groups were Alumni Relations; School of Public Health; College of Education and Human Development; and College of Science, Engineering and Technology. As well, the JSU Jazz Ensemble performed.
Jerry Zigler, a 2007 graduate of JSU, is a southeast region board member for JSUNAA. He’s also president of the Metro Charlotte Alumni Chapter. The visit to the state Capitol was a first for him.
“It’s really been a good experience to hear from some of the senators and learn of their support of Jackson State University. I would like to see all alums get involved on a local and national level and stay actively engaged with the university. By doing so, alumni will always know what’s going on and how they can be of help to the university or local chapter.
Meanwhile, one student said it was also his first visit to the Capitol and described it as an “overwhelming experience.”
Corey Shaw, a Jackson native and senior elementary education major, said, “It’s mind-blowing to be face to face with senators and representatives and see all the decisions involved with their jobs.”SHAW raised a question to one of the lawmakers about student testing in Mississippi, wondering whether Mississippi studies data from other states for the best approach to measuring students’ aptitude. He noted that testing in Texas, for example, shows different results than Mississippi. “Texas exposes students to subjects earlier than Mississippi,” he said.
Harkins confirmed that while Mississippi studies data from counterparts, he believes the Magnolia state has performed well by pushing up graduation rates to the national level and helping third-graders improve their reading skills.
After the huge JSU display, JSUNAA’s Owens thanked administrators, students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends for supporting JSU Day at the Capitol.
“We all came together for one purpose, and that’s our love for Jackson State. The best is yet to come for Jackson State,” she said.