Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers didn't imagine she would face opposition when she announced in January the school's plans to open a satellite campus in Madison.
When Meyers learned that Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler and Richard Marksbury, dean of the Tulane University's School of Continuing Studies in Madison, were attempting to keep JSU from opening the campus, she was blindsided.
"I was amazed, astounded," Meyers said at a press conference Jan. 28.
The previous Friday, Jan. 25, Hawkins Butler and Marksbury sent a letter to the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning and Special Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Ganucheau requesting that IHL reconsider and rescind its approval of JSU's lease of a building at 382 Galleria Parkway in Madison.
The letter claimed IHL's approval of JSU's lease is a violation of Mississippi Code Sec. 37-102-13, which states: "The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning shall take into account the ongoing programs of the private colleges in the State of Mississippi when said board authorizes off-campus programs created under this chapter."
IHL did not take into consideration the programs Tulane, a New Orleans, La.-based private institution, offers at its Madison campus, the letter claimed.
The letter failed to mention the second part of the two-sentence law, however, which states: "It is the intent of this chapter to meet the educational needs of students who do not have ready access to the educational opportunities that they desire."
That, Meyers said, is precisely JSU's reason for opening the new campus. "Our goal in opening a JSU branch in Madison is to meet the educational needs of the students in the metro Jackson area," Meyers said.
JSU has not announced all the programs of study it will offer at the campus, but the JSU communications department wrote on its blog that the university plans to include business, public service and education courses in Madison.
Tulane's website does not list public service or education as programs of study available at its Madison campus.
Hawkins Butler and Marksbury's letter stated that JSU's lack of plans presented to IHL put the board's approval in violation of Miss. Code Sec. 37-102-1. That law, however, sets no clear guidelines to how IHL must evaluate proposals for new campuses, only that "the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning shall not establish off-campus instructional programs if in its opinion such action is not in the best interest of quality education for the State of Mississippi and the university system."
Attempts by this reporter to reach an IHL board member for comment before press time were unsuccessful.
Meyers said JSU is not trying to take students away from Tulane, but to make higher education easier for non-traditional students who have to work while
"It's not about either-or; it's a matter of making it convenient," Meyers said.
After the letter from Hawkins Butler and Marksbury went public, Canton Mayor William Truly wrote a letter to Jackson State requesting a meeting to discuss opening a campus in Canton.
"As the Mayor of the City of Canton, you certainly would be welcome here," Truly wrote. "We recognize that education is the key to economic development for our communities and our state."
Truly also disapproves of Hawkins Butler's actions. "Jackson State University is the premier university for the metro area and should not have been dismissed in such a derogatory manner," he wrote.
Hawkins Butler told a local TV news reporter that her actions weren't based on any criteria of JSU, a historically black university. She said that she also told Belhaven University, her alma mater, that she could not support that school opening a campus in Madison, either, because it would conflict with Tulane.
Belhaven University President Roger Parrott said he spoke to Hawkins Butler about the possibility of a Belhaven campus in Madison, but concluded it would have been too costly. Parrott said she did not offer Belhaven the incentives offered Tulane. "
Eric Stringfellow, JSU director of communications, said JSU is not considering opening the campus in Canton instead of Madison.
"We're going to Madison. We've signed a lease," Stringfellow said Feb. 1.
Meyers said JSU plans to begin offering courses at the Madison campus this summer.
Comment at www.jfp.ms. Email Jacob D. Fuller at [email protected]