The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has once again selected Academic Search, an executive headhunting firm, to help it find the next president of a public university in Mississippi. 

This time, the board has hired Academic Search to help trustees pick a permanent replacement for Thomas Hudson at Jackson State University. The decision was made at the board’s meeting last week. The contract has not been finalized, but an IHL spokesperson said Academic Search would be paid $115,000. 

Hudson resigned in mid-March after the board placed him on administrative leave with pay, making him the third permanent president in a row to step down from Jackson State. Unlike his predecessors, it is still not known why Hudson resigned from the top job at Mississippi’s largest historically Black university. 

Elayne Hayes-Anthony has been filling the post in the interim. Hayes-Anthony has been over Jackson State’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies. In March, Hayes-Anthony told reporters that she was interested in becoming Jackson State’s permanent president and would apply for the position.

At on-campus listening sessions held by the board last month, only one community member mentioned they’d like to see Hayes-Anthony permanently take the job. But it was resoundingly clear that community members wanted IHL to conduct a national search. 

Carrine Bishop, a faculty member whose family has deep roots at JSU, put it the most bluntly: “Stop hiring your friends,” she told trustees. “We need to vet every individual.”

Hudson, who had been appointed interim president in the wake of William Bynum Jr.’s resignation, was elevated in an expedited search at the end of 2020. Trustees did not conduct a national search before appointing Hudson permanently. 

In Mississippi, business has been booming for Academic Search. In the last year, the IHL board has hired the firm to assist with the presidential searches at Delta State University and University of Southern Mississippi.

Despite contracting with the search firm, trustees ultimately opted not to do a national search at USM and voted to appoint Joe Paul, who had been the interim president Academic Search never posted a formal announcement for the position. 

But at Delta State, the board’s pick, Daniel Ennis, applied for the job after seeing the posting on Academic Search’s website.  

The board paid Academic Search $85,000 for the Delta State search. IHL’s initial contract with Academic Search was for $130,000, but it was amended after the board cut the search short.

Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter at Mississippi Today in partnership with Open Campus.