Jackson State president Carolyn Meyers quits amid financial turmoil

Published 6:59 am Wednesday, October 26, 2016

ACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Jackson State University’s president will resign Nov. 1 after Mississippi’s College Board intervened in the university’s finances.

Carolyn Meyers broke up with trustees of the state’s eight public universities very publicly late Tuesday, with Jackson State posting her resignation letter on Twitter and emailing it to reporters at the same time a copy was hand-delivered to Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce.

“Never doubt that I am immensely proud of Jackson State University and honored by the time I spent and the fine people I’ve met here,” Meyers wrote in her resignation.

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The late afternoon surprise bookends an unusual public humiliation that trustees heaped on Meyers days before. Thursday, they discussed the 10,000-student university’s dwindling cash balances, announced an accounting firm had been hired to oversee finances, and then denied permission to Jackson State to negotiate with a private firm to build needed dormitories.

Typically, trustees air disputes with presidents behind closed doors, and business items they oppose are usually shot down by never making their agenda. However, in this case, Boyce and trustee President Dr. Doug Rouse said Meyers had been responding inadequately to questions for years.

“I wish Dr. Meyers well,” Boyce told The Associated Press. “I appreciate the service she has provided for the university.”

When asked whether the departure became inevitable after last Thursday, Boyce said he didn’t know what Meyers was thinking. However, he said trustees, in a closed meeting, had authorized him to accept Meyers’ resignation “if it came to that.”

Meyers said she wanted the leave she had accrued, plus an extra 30 days’ pay, saying that’s in accordance with JSU policies. Boyce said College Board officials were trying to figure out if the extra 30 days’ pay is permitted under state law. Meyers made $270,000 a year, Boyce said, so a month’s pay would be $22,500.

Boyce said trustees would hold a meeting in coming days and he would recommend an interim leader for JSU, although Boyce said he didn’t know who that would be yet. Boyce said trustees would launch a nationwide search for Meyers’ successor, convening campus committees and listening sessions among students, faculty, alumni and community members.

“We intend to run a very inclusive process to find the next president,” Boyce said.

Such broad searches typically take months, which would give JSU and College Board leaders more time to patch up its finances, possibly making it a more attractive job.

“I’m looking for an upward trajectory every month, so I can point that positive trajectory out to a prospective president,” Boyce said.

As of June 30, JSU had $4 million in cash on hand, down from $37 million in 2012. The university announced a plan to rebuild reserves, saying it hoped to add $10 million to its bank account by June by controlling expenses.

Enrollment at the historically black university grew strongly under Meyers, president since 2011, rising to nearly 10,000 students. She had defended spending decisions, saying the university was financing growth and improving facilities. For example, she said the College Board approved a decision to spend $3 million in reserves to replace bricks on three sides of the main library, because they were unsafe.

Meyers’ departure came the same day that the president of Jackson State’s alumni association sent out a defense of the university.

“Let’s not allow headlines to drive our actions and our emotions,” wrote Yolanda Owens in a widely circulated email. “Let’s give our administration the benefit of the doubt and allow the facts to be revealed.”

Also Tuesday, JSU announced it was canceling its homecoming concert, which was scheduled to feature Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz.

JSU has also faced a number of employment lawsuits since Meyers became president. In September, the board unanimously voted in closed session to reject the settlement of a lawsuit by the former women’s head basketball coach Denise Taylor Travis against JSU.