- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s College Board moved quickly to tap an insider as the next president of Alcorn State University.

The board announced Thursday that Alfred Rankins Jr., its deputy commissioner of academic affairs and student affairs, is its preferred candidate to become the next leader of the 4,000-student university.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” the 42-year-old said. “I believe I am the right fit at the right time. I am so incredibly humbled by the opportunity to lead.”

Rankins served for a year as interim president of Mississippi Valley State University. He’ll meet next Tuesday with faculty, students and other groups and the College Board will vote on his appointment after those meetings.

The announcement wraps up an unusually rapid presidential search after M. Christopher Brown II resigned in December. Brown stepped down as the board moved to suspend him during an investigation into purchasing violations.

Records reviewed by The Associated Press show Alcorn spent almost $89,000 on furniture and renovations at the president’s house without seeking bids as required under state law. Documents also show Alcorn paid $85,000 in fees to a concert production company associated with a Brown aide, possibly violating state ethics laws. And an auditor says the school spent more than $67,000 in bond money on projects not allowed in the lending agreement.

Norris Edney has been serving as acting president since Brown resigned.

Usually, the board appoints a search committee, hires a search firm to look for a new president and interviews multiple candidates, a process that takes months. However, last year, the board changed the rules governing presidential choices to allow it to speed up the process. No search firm was hired in the Alcorn search, and the board search committee named Jan. 24 interviewed only Rankins on Wednesday before choosing him.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said the board has done a number of searches for presidents and decided to interview Rankins before opening the field to others. He said the board believes Rankins is qualified and proved he could lead during his interim period at Valley.

“We know Dr. Rankins. We know what his abilities are,” Bounds said. “We had the opportunity to see him perform there, and he provided spectacular leadership.”

Rankins said his top priority would be cleaning up the problems that led to Brown’s resignation.

“Alcorn will move forward, and we’ll learn from this and be a better university because of it,” he said.

Rankins said he wanted to wait for the state auditor and the Ethics Commission to complete their inquiries before proposing changes.

Board leaders said they hoped the quick transition would allow Alcorn State to preserve the progress it made under Brown in recruiting students and improving its image.

Searches can be costly in terms of resources and lost momentum,” Bounds said. “One of the reasons we’re moving so quickly is because the university does have good momentum now.”

Rankins, a Greenville native, earned a bachelor’s degree from Alcorn. He earned a master’s and a doctorate in weed science from Mississippi State University. That links him to the agricultural mission of Alcorn, the nation’s oldest historically black land-grant university.

Brown was noted for his close connection to students, and Rankins said he would work to continue those outreach efforts.

“Alcorn, bar none, will be the most student-friendly university in the United States,” Rankins said.

The school has a main campus in Lorman and branch campuses in Natchez and Vicksburg. Rankins said he hoped those branch campuses, in particular, could help reach white as well as black students.

“The core mission of an HBCU is to serve underrepresented groups,” he said. “But we’re not limited to that core mission. We believe in diversity at Alcorn. We’re going to recruit all students.”

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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