The Chapel, one of the more iconic buildings at Alcorn State University in Lorman. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP

The governing board of Mississippi’s public university system announced that Alcorn State University’s interim president is leaving next month to focus on his family.

The change, which the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved in a special called executive session on Thursday, comes a little over two months after Ontario Wooden was appointed in the wake of the board’s firing of Felecia Nave, the university’s first female president.

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Wooden had served as the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs since 2020. When Wooden was appointed in April, some faculty were optimistic he could repair the strained relationship they had with Nave due in part to some changes she’d made early in her tenure that increased the minimum number of classes faculty had to teach.

“We appreciate Dr. Wooden’s leadership and his three years of service to Alcorn State University,” said Dr. Alfred McNair, the new IHL board president, in a press release. “We wish Dr. Wooden and his family well in their future endeavors.”

Wooden will be replaced by Tracy Cook, the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. Cook is an alumnus of Alcorn State, the oldest public historically Black university in Missisippi. He will begin serving on July 8.

“Dr. Cook will keep the university moving forward and building on its rich heritage,” McNair said.

The nature of Wooden’s departure was not immediately clear from IHL’s press release, and a spokesperson for the university did not respond to an inquiry from Mississippi Today by press time.

This is not unusual: The board did not provide a reason for Nave’s firing, which came two days after she interviewed as a semi-finalist for the chancellor position at Louisiana State University, Shreveport. 

An alumni group called Alcornites for Change has called on IHL to provide more information on the reason for Nave’s firing. The group had closely followed Nave’s presidency and prepared a report on declining enrollment, resignations and the abysmal state of the univesity’s athletic facilities.

“It was a shocker to us because my thing was, we’ve been presenting the information, we have been rallying the stakeholders, and all of a sudden, boom, they make a decision,” Jared Gilmore, a member of Alcornites for Change, told Mississippi Today last month. “We need to know where we go from here because we have some issues.” 

IHL has yet to announce a timeline for a presidential search, and the board said at its meeting yesterday it does not plan to meet until August.

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

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