Jackson State University’s temporary acting president said she has no timeline for her appointment at an on-campus press conference Monday.
Elayne Hayes-Anthony’s address to the media and campus community came as questions are still spinning about the circumstances that led the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees to suddenly place her predecessor, Thomas Hudson, on administrative leave with pay last week.
“I’m going to be here as long as I’m needed,” Hayes-Anthony said. “I’ve not been given a timetable.”
For now, Hayes-Anthony has limited hiring and firing powers. Decisions like that, she said, will be made in coordination with IHL Commissioner Al Rankins.
“I am committed to upholding our operations at the highest possible standard,” she said.
But in other aspects, Hayes-Anthony is fully embracing her new role at the historically Black university in the capital city. The Jackson native and former chair of the university’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies emphasized her connection to Jackson State, her love of the university’s athletic teams and her commitment to academics.
“I’m homegrown,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere. This is not something for me as a resume builder. I love this university, and I think it shows.”
The IHL has been silent about its decision to place Hudson on leave due to a “personnel matter” though, in a press release last week, the board said it will “discuss the future leadership of Jackson State” at this month’s meeting. The stunning decision came about a month after IHL voted to renew Hudson’s contract through 2027.
Any questions about Hudson, Hayes-Anthony said, were for IHL. But she did answer questions about the deep-rooted sense among many in Jackson State’s community that the IHL board does not look out for the university’s best interest — or even that trustees sabotage the university by appointing presidents who are not fit for the role.
“We can really bridge and go over whatever we think are troubled waters,” she said. “I think it can be done. I think the community is ready for that to be done. And I think the people that serve Jackson State, like I do, will be ready for that to be done.”
Hayes-Anthony said she planned to meet with students Monday afternoon.
“I want to know what students need because a part of my mission is increasing enrollment, and you can’t do that without listening to students,” she said.
She has also scheduled a meeting with the faculty senate later this week, said Dawn McLin, the faculty senate president, who attended the press conference.
“The largest room in the world is the room for improvement,” McLin said. “I appreciated that she talked about trust. It’s earned. And she’s working hard to earn our trust and foster a culture of inclusiveness here at Jackson State University.”
In January, the faculty senate voted no confidence in Hudson and four members of his administration, including Joseph Whitaker, the vice president of research and economic development; Michael Bolden, vice president of facilities and operations; Robin Pack, the executive director of human resources, and Brandi Newkirk-Turner, the associate provost.
The resolution cited a “continuous pattern of failing to respect” shared governance and other professional norms of higher education from Hudson’s administration.
Rico Jackson, a 21-year-old senior communications major, said he went to the press conference to “show some love” from his department because Hayes-Anthony has been a supportive leader.”
This semester, Jackson said that Hayes-Anthony made it possible for him to graduate on time by arranging for him to take two classes in tandem that are normally required to be taken apart.
“She’s always been there to try to make whatever way that she can possible for you,” he said.
Hayes-Anthony will be at the Capitol Wednesday to promote the university’s legislative agenda that includes requests for funding for new dormitories and improvements to its water system.
“Jackson State is one of the great pillars of the city of Jackson,” she said.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.