‘The honeymoon period is over’: JSU faculty votes no confidence in president, administration at Mississippi university

Published 10:10 am Monday, January 30, 2023

‘The honeymoon period is over’: JSU faculty senate votes no confidence in president, administration

by Molly Minta, Mississippi Today
January 27, 2023

The Jackson State University faculty senate voted “no-confidence” in President Thomas Hudson and his administration on Thursday.

A two-page resolution from the governing body elected by faculty to represent their concerns called out Hudson and four members of his administration for a “continuous pattern of failing to respect” shared governance and other professional norms of higher education at the historically Black university in Mississippi’s capital city.

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Though his tenure has brought JSU athletic success and millions in research dollars, faculty say their concerns have gone ignored for months as Hudson has stopped meeting with them. With the no-confidence vote, years of behind-the-scenes issues – like mold, lax campus security, and worsening pay inequity as high-level administrators have received pay raises – are bubbling into the public eye.

“There are serious issues regarding effective leadership at Jackson State University,” stated the resolution, which also named Joseph Whitaker, the vice president of research and economic development; Michael Bolden, vice president of facilities and operations; Robin Pack, the executive director of human resources, and Brandi Newkirk-Turner, the associate provost.

One faculty senator, at a meeting in August, described the general sentiment toward the administration this way: “The honeymoon period is over, and now the pressure is on.”

At that same meeting, another senator concurred that faculty were starting to feel “like second class citizens.”

In a statement, Hudson said that he is looking forward to working with the faculty senate to address their concerns.

“I’m proud of what my administration has been able to accomplish to date,” Hudson said, “and I am committed to continuing the work to collaboratively execute the strategic plan to make Jackson State the best institution it can be.”

While no-confidence votes signal faculty dissatisfaction with their president, they have no binding effect. Such votes are relatively rare in Mississippi. The most recent was in 2019 after the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees appointed Glenn Boyce as chancellor at the University of Mississippi. While faculty at Alcorn State University had concerns with their president in 2021, the senate did not call for a no-confidence vote.

Hudson was appointed acting president in the wake of a scandal at JSU after former president William Bynum was arrested in a prostitution sting. Hudson, a Jackson resident and JSU alum, had broad support on campus when the IHL board solidified his appointment at the end of 2020.

A few months before Hudson was confirmed by IHL, faculty, noticing that new hires were making more than tenured faculty, started asking his administration to conduct a pay equity study. Black women in particular were increasingly making below the median salary for faculty, according to a data analysis from an Oct. 21 faculty senate meeting.

More than two years later, JSU still hasn’t funded the study. Human resources issued two requests-for-proposals, but the only vendor that replied in 2021 was outside the budget, according to faculty senate meeting minutes. It is unclear how much the university committed to the study.

In April 2022, the provost told the faculty senate they had negotiated the original bid down to $40,000, but that was the last update the senate received on the pay study.

Hudson said in a statement that he is committed to funding the pay equity study and that his administration “has worked extensively with the Faculty and Staff Senate to make it a reality.” He told Mississippi Today that “the pay equity study, it just is what it is. We’re not sure what angle they’re going with the delay.”

For the first year and a half of Hudson’s term, the primary vehicle for faculty to address their concerns with administration was a monthly meeting held by faculty senate leadership. The faculty senate executive committee would talk with Hudson about pressing issues and relay his comments to the senate at large.

But at a meeting with the cabinet on Aug. 23, 2022, Hudson informed the executive committee that it would be his last, according to faculty senate meeting minutes. While the provost would continue to attend, going forward, Hudson wanted “more holistic engagement” with faculty, like town halls. If faculty had concerns, the meeting minutes say that Hudson requested they email other members of the administration and copy him.

Hudson “indicated that he does not think that it’s the best use of his time to go down what is basically a list of concerns every meeting,” the meeting minutes say.

Don Spann, the faculty senate treasurer and a visiting assistant professor, said the executive committee asked Hudson “what do we need to make sure we utilize your time wisely?”

“One of the things he basically said was to make sure it aligns with his strategic plan,” Spann said, adding he felt like Hudson was basically saying, “if it’s not in line with my strategic plan, then I’m not really going to take the time out to listen to it.”

At a faculty senate meeting two days later, faculty expressed concern with Hudson’s request. One senator called town hall meetings “public relation meetings” and another noted that, without changes, faculty “will get frustrated.” One senator said she had a “concern that this format will create a lot of going back and forth and a writing campaign.”

On Sept. 16, the senate sent a letter to Hudson outlining its concerns about the meetings. He never responded, according to the senate.

Emails from faculty senators to administration started to go ignored. They haven’t received an update on the pay equity study in months.

In particular, faculty have repeatedly asked the administration to address what they say is a persistent lack of public safety on campus. Faculty have noted at senate meetings they don’t see security on campus and that there have been car thefts and incidents of homeless people harassing students.

“The campus is too open to strangers,” the Sept. 2022 meeting minutes note.

Spann said that while Bolden has attended faculty senate meetings to talk about facilities and security, he is disappointed with the lack of progress on safety initiatives, like making sure campus cameras are working or hiring new officers.

The Senate shared the resolution with IHL and the commissioner, the staff senate and SGA, and the alumni association. The Clarion Ledger reported that IHL will investigate.

“We want to make the university better as a whole,” Spann said. “In order to do that, you have to have dialogue. But if you’re not at the table with the president, it’s not effective communication at all.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.