Marcus L. Thompson will be the new president of Jackson State University, the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning decided during Thursday morning’s board meeting.
The body, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities, announced the decision for the historically Black university’s new president via a press release this afternoon.
“I’m very honored to be named President of Jackson State University because I believe in its mission, purpose and most of all, the outstanding faculty, staff, alumni and students who embody our school’s motto of challenging minds, changing lives,” Thompson said in the IHL press release. “I look forward to working closely with all of them to develop a consensus about strategic goals and objectives we can achieve by working together.”
Thompson is the deputy commissioner and chief administrative officer of IHL. His role includes overseeing the IHL staff and day-to-day operations of the agency.
He has also served as chief of staff and assistant to the Mississippi State Superintendent of Education. He earned bachelor’s degrees in history and Spanish and a master’s degree in education from Mississippi College; he also holds a doctorate in urban higher education from Jackson State University. Thompson previously served as an educator and administrator in the Jackson and Copiah County public school districts.
“The Board selected a leader who knows the unique historic importance of the university who will articulate a bold vision for the future and will be indefatigable in the pursuit of excellence for Jackson State University,” Dr. Steven Cunningham, chair of the Board Search Committee, said in the IHL press release.
The length of the process drew scrutiny. IHL appointed the members of the search committee in April and named Cunningham, a JSU alumnus, as chair. It also selected the company Academic Search to assist in the process. The board held online and in-person listening sessions with faculty, staff and students to provide feedback and created an advisory panel to help create a profile of the next president.
Still, many saw the process as too secretive. The search began with nearly 80 applicants. The hiring team interviewed finalists behind locked doors in early October as media and alumni waited in separate rooms for results.
“In previous years, the constituency groups were allowed the opportunity to participate in the vetting of applications and interview process,” JSU National Alumni Association President Patrese Edwards told Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 8. “There were some feelings of a lack of transparency (among alumni) because this time that process has been changed. They changed their bylaws so that it no longer includes the constituency groups in that process.”
The committee met virtually at noon on Nov. 3 and almost immediately went into executive session before adjourning less than 30 minutes later. No word was given on the specifics of that meeting. Members of the press waited in the lobby for a Nov. 8 meeting that never happened.
Edwards told Mississippi Free Press that she hopes that the alumni association and the new president can continue the relationship they have established. The president must approve the association.
“(The past two presidents) have shared information freely about things that are going on,” Edwards said. “I would like for that relationship to continue because it allows for us to share with our alumni base to make sure that they’re getting real time information and that we’re able to assist with any initiatives that the university may have.”
“So far we’ve had a pretty good relationship with those in positions of leadership, and I pride myself on making sure that we have those great relationships because our ultimate goal is to make sure that the university is able to thrive and that our students and scholar athletes are able to thrive as well,” she added.
At one point during Thursday morning’s executive session, members of the press heard applause from behind closed doors, but IHL adjourned the Nov. 16 meeting without publicly naming the president. Trustees repeatedly said “no comment” when asked questions about the search before issuing the press release in the afternoon.
Thompson is the fourth president in the past 14 years and the 13th overall. IHL appointed Elaine Hayes-Anthony as interm president in March of this year after placing former President Thomas Hudson on administrative leave; he later resigned. Hayes-Anthony had served as the chair and professor for the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at JSU since 2015.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Dr. Marcus L. Thompson in some places as Dr. Marcus L. Thomas; we apologize for the error. Additionally, the original version of this story said that JSU has had seven presidents over the past 14 years; the university has had four presidents and three interim presidents during that period.