On Thursday, May 18, 2023, Dr. Alfred McNair presided over the meeting of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (the College Board). He did so after having been present at last month’s meeting via video. That meeting had been scheduled as his inaugural session as president.
Last week’s session turned out to be a fairly routine affair. We have learned to say that with “tongue in cheek” because there are often controversial matters that are either placed on the consent agenda after having been agreed upon prior to the board meetings or matters that are removed and discussed in executive session, after the public has been dismissed. With that in mind, we say that Dr. McNair’s first session was without notoriety or major controversial discussions.
One item of note was the one wherein the accreditation of the state’s nursing programs was approved. It was noteworthy that Alcorn’s bachelors, masters and doctoral programs were accredited “with conditions.” The approval of the accreditations was followed by a report on the status of nursing in the state, which was also reflective of the status of nursing in the country as a whole.
Among other proposals, Mississippi State University (MSU) had three proposals on whose content we offer brief comments. Under academic affairs MSU requested and was granted permission to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Sociology. Although it was presented as a serious matter, based upon its justification and its distinction from the existing bachelor’s program in Sociology, it could be seen as almost laughable. The program adds four courses, all of which insert the word “applied” in their titles. Based upon that proposal, each university could request degree programs in Applied Economics, Applied Political Science, Applied English, and so on across the board. It should be understood that most fields in the arts and sciences are generally taught theoretically, but can and are adaptable, being applied through internships and/or on-the-job. Incidentally, the MSU program is to be offered only online.
A second proposal from MSU was for beginning a bond process to build a new residence hall and to make renovations to Davis-Wade Stadium. This proposal is noted because its presentation brings to mind how often such serious needs have arisen at the historically Black universities with no such action being taken, except minimally when it was done during the Ayers litigation. It is proposals such as these that reveal how the historically Black universities easily fall further and further behind.
The third MSU request was for the adjustment of room rates for its triple occupancy dwellings. The presenter noted that this was separate and apart from the request made last month, when all of the universities submitted requests for tuition, room and board, and other fees changes for the Fall Semester. While MSU’s request was reasonable and understandable, one could not help but wonder if this need for a second request reflected the fact that some MSU official(s) are so relatively incompetent as to have missed the need to first time around, or was the responsible party just asleep at the wheel. For sure, if Mississippi Valley State University had made such a slip-up, many tongues would be wagging. In MSU’s case, it was just quietly taken care of in a routine manner.
In another proposal, the college board quietly approved a change in university admissions policies. According to the Ayers Settlement Agreement over two decades ago, students were fully admitted to either of the state universities based upon an acceptable ACT or SAT score, an acceptable GPA in the college preparatory curriculum of their high school, or ranking in the upper half of their graduating class. Over the years, the college board had required that students who scored below 16 in the ACT subsets of mathematics, English, or reading would be required to take courses in Intermediate Mathematics, English, or Reading during their first semester of enrollment. This was clearly a step backwards in terms of access to a college education. To its credit, the board during the May meeting revised its conditional admissions policy, requiring students to take such courses during their first year of enrollment, not necessarily during the semester. On the one hand, that is a step forward. On the other hand, without compelling data to show the value of the original modification, the focus on the subset scores merely handicap some students, prolonging their college careers.
As the college board meeting neared its end, the committee assignments for the new term were announced. The five standing committees – Academic Affairs, Audit, Finance, Health Affairs, Legal, and Real Estate – are open to all of the trustees. The persons who serve as chairs are rotated annually. For the new term, the chairs are as follows: Academic Affairs, Hal Parker; Audit, Teresa Hubbard; Finance, Tom Duff; Health Affairs, Steven Cunningham; Legal, Gee Ogletree; and Real Estate, Chip Morgan.
There are two special committees to which members were appointed. These are the Ayers Endowment Management Committee and the Diversity Committee.
The Ayers Endowment Management Committee will oversee the spending of the funds in the public endowments created for Alcorn State University, Jackson State University, and Mississippi Valley State University by the Ayers Settlement. That committee will be chaired by board of trustees member Greg Rader. The other members of the committee are: board of trustees president Alfred McNair, board of trustees member Jeanne Luckey, board of trustees member Walt Starr, higher education commissioner Alfred Rankins, and the presidents of these three historically Black universities.
The Diversity Committee will plan the annual program that recognizes individuals who have been noted for their efforts to promote racial/ethnic diversity on the university campuses. It grew out of the initiative by former trustee member James Luvene to have the college board celebrate Black History Month. Perhaps one day the committee will expand its scope to include system-wide efforts to promote diversity in all areas, including employment, scholarships, admissions, and so forth. This term, the committee will be co-chaired by trustees Ormella Cumming and Steven Cunningham. Trustee Jeanne Luckey will also serve.