- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Trustees said Monday that current Mississippi Valley State University President William Bynum Jr. is just the person to help Jackson State University turn around its financial troubles, but some Jackson State supporters are questioning the board’s decision to name a finalist from a rival university.

“The one thing we kept coming back to is who has the right skills and who has the right experience, considering the situation at Jackson State, where we are financially and otherwise,” trustee President C.D. Smith of Meridian told the Associated Press.

Bynum will meet with campus groups May 31, and trustees will vote later that day on naming him the 10,000-student university’s president. Although most finalist interviews are routine, this one could be rocky. Some Jackson State supporters walked out in the middle of the announcement Monday vocally expressing displeasure.

Jackson State economics professor Jean-Claude Assad, one of eight people affiliated with the university who helped interview candidates, told Mississippi Today after the announcement that Bynum had been in the initial round of eight interviewees but had not been among the three finalists.

Assad told the online news organization that trustees are “going to have to answer for this.”

Assad and six other Jackson State constituents who took part in interviews didn’t respond to phone calls, emails or Facebook messages from The Associated Press on Monday.

Bynum said he was attracted to the potential of Jackson State, saying it would be a step up from 2,500-student Mississippi Valley. He said the university has potential, but acknowledges its cash shortfall means cuts for now.

“That’s clearly not an ideal situation to start in,” Bynum said. “I do know it’s going to be two or three years to work things out.”

The choice of Bynum lines up with what Smith said Thursday after the board couldn’t reach a decision following hours of closed-door debate. He said then that trustees would consider people beyond the three unnamed finalists they had been considering to break the stalemate.

Jackson State’s alumni association last week said all eight university representatives who took part in interviews were supporting one unnamed finalist.

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, who took part in a larger committee that read resumes and suggested names to trustees, said he found the selection of a president of another Mississippi public university to be strange.

“Would you take a president from Ole Miss and put them over Mississippi State?” Flaggs asked.

However, familiarity may have reassured trustees, who intervened in Jackson State finances last year, citing dwindling cash reserves. Carolyn Meyers resigned as president days later.

“He’s a known individual in the state, a known individual in the capitol, a known individual inside our system,” Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce said.

Smith said Bynum had turned around declining enrollment at the state's smallest public university, built up cash reserves, increased alumni giving and successfully attracted grants.

“He was able to deal with the same issues and do it really well,” Smith said.

The 54-year-old Bynum came to Mississippi Valley in 2013 after serving as vice president of enrollment management and student services of Atlanta’s Morehouse College. Bynum was one of the first 13 members in 2003 of a program meant to prepare future presidents for colleges serving minority populations.

“If they’ll give him a chance, they’ll realize that Will Bynum will do a wonderful job of positioning Jackson State for success,” Smith said.

Bynum pledged to visit each Jackson State alumni chapter in his first year, if selected.

“I’m going to extend the olive branch to every constituency, every group,” he said.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/Jeff_Amy.

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