On November 17, 2023, Dr. Debra Mays-Jackson filed a complaint in the Southern District of the U.S. Federal Court District for Mississippi. The complaint was against the college board, the commissioner of higher education, and John Doe advisors to the board at the time that Thomas Hudson was named Acting President of Jackson State University and later elevated or appointed as permanent president.
SEX OR GENDER DISCRIMINATION
The essence of her complaint is that, based upon sex or gender discrimination, she was passed over and Hudson was named acting president and then permanent president without a search, which would have at least given her the opportunity to be named to the position. In making the argument, she outlines her education and experiences which can be contrasted with Hudson’s education and experiences. Her record includes, four earned degrees – bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctorate – and administrative experiences with Jackson Public Schools, Hinds Community College, and culminating with a tenure as Vice President and Chief of Staff at Jackson State University. By contrast, Hudson had a bachelor’s and a law degree and served as a presidential assistant and investigator of sexual harassment complaints at Jackson State University.
The allegation of sex or gender discrimination may not jump out at the casual observer, especially since several years earlier the college board had appointed Dr. Carolyn Meyers, a female, as president. When one looks at Mays-Jackson’s statements, however, it can be seen that she had education and experiences notably superior to Hudson’s. Such realities are important in selecting and appointing chief executive or administrative officers. Yet, the college board conducted no search or otherwise attempted to locate more qualified candidates for the presidency.
The pattern of sexual bias, about which Mays-Jackson complains, in presidential appointments seemed to have begun with Ronald Mason. It can be seen for nearly every appointment since that time.
In 2000, Ronald Mason was appointed as JSU president despite the fact that he had no experience as a college administrator; despite the fact that Dr. Bettye Ward Fletcher, a highly qualified female, was in the seat as interim at the time; and despite the fact that Mason did not rank among the top five candidates in the pool. Ward Fletcher, a female, was not even considered by the board as a candidate. Her situation was one wherein the board’s sexual bias most clearly rose its head.
The second example in the pattern is underscored in Mays-Jackson’s complaint. She documents that following Meyers’ departure, Dr. Rosalyn Clark Artis, a qualified and experienced female, emerged as the top candidate for the presidency. Rather than choose her, however, Dr. William Bynum, who had been dropped from consideration, was re-inserted in the pool by the college board and appointed as president.
The alleged sexual discrimination against Mays-Jackson in favor of Hudson became the third documented example. For objective minds, that establishes a pattern.
Since the Hudson appointment, Mays-Jackson’s case seems strengthened by a fourth example that just transpired. As a search began for Hudson’s replacement, Dr. Elayne Hayes-Anthony was given the title “Temporary Acting President.” Despite that fact, neither she, nor at least three other females who have educational training and experiences superior to Dr. Marcus Thompson, was selected and appointed to the position as permanent president. To add insult to injury, these women were passed over as the board chose an individual who was not among the original applicants for the position. These data may be sufficient to convince a judge and jury that Mays-Jackson has suffered from sexual discrimination, as have others in the past.
Mays-Jackson’s complaint includes, publicly for the first time, the reasons behind Hudson’s forced resignation. In a manner similar to Bynum, there was evidence that Hudson had engaged in sexual misconduct vis a vis a JSU employee and a JSU student. What may be surprising to many is that some of Hudson’s conduct is alleged to have occurred before he was appointed as acting president. Mays-Jackson’s complaint also states that the board knew or should have known about the incidents before proceeding without a search and elevating Hudson to the presidency.
Once the complaint was put on line, many learned what they had only wondered about previously. They had heard rumors, but were not sure what to believe. Polite media was reluctant to report that Hudson had allegedly exposed his genitalia to these women and otherwise pursued them. Many of the same people had heard that the college board was aware of the occurrences, but took no action until legal action was threatened against it and Hudson. Had legal action against the board have taken place, the board would have likely been found guilty of retaining an unfit employee.
Mays-Jackson’s complaint rightly suggests that a proper vetting of the candidate should have revealed those things about Hudson. This further means that the Jackson State University community suffered humiliation and another set-back because the board either did not know but should have known OR knew but did not care about the kind of person it was appointing as president of Jackson State University.
CHOOSING VULNERABLE CANDIDATES
Many observers have long believed that over the years the college board has deliberately chosen candidates who had something in their past that would make them less than the most likely to be chosen. By being selected by the college board, the thinking is that such candidates would be more willing to be subservient to the wishes/biases of the college board and its staff rather than be aggressive in developing Jackson State University so that it could rightly compete with the so-called comprehensive universities – Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi. That theory explains why even when it was not females being discriminating against, vulnerable candidates were chosen rather than the best in the respective pools.
While the jury may be out on this matter, Mays-Jackson’s complaint may contribute to a better understanding of the condition. This observable pattern can be seen emerging soon after Dr. James Hefner was literally forced out of the JSU presidency by Higher Education Commissioner W. Ray Cleere.
During Hefner’s last months in office, the college board engaged in a full-fledged search and decided to appoint Dr. James Lyons as president. Despite his favorable attributes, the vulnerable flaw was that his relationship with the faculty at Bowie State University had deteriorated to such an extent that he was given a vote of “no confidence” months before he applied to JSU. The board apparently knew this and rescued him in this fall from grace by appointing him as JSU’s president.
After Lyons’ departure, the college board’s next permanent president was Ronald Mason. Despite his other attributes, Mason’s vulnerable flaws were that he had no administrative experience at the college level; he openly hoped to eventually leave to hold the presidential position at Xavier University, using JSU as a stepping stone; and that at least one New Orleans newspaper reported that he was under investigation by the FBI for his handling of federal funds for a Tulane/Xavier sponsored housing project. The college board used these situations to boost him to promise and acceptability by appointing him as president.
After Mason’s departure, the college board next appointed Dr. Carolyn Meyers. In addition to the positives on her record, her flaw was that she had been quietly relieved of the presidency at Norfolk State University over financial problems. The college board rescued her from possible administrative obscurity by appointing her as president of JSU.
After Meyers’ departure, the college board’s next appointment was Dr. William Bynum. His flaws included a record of criminal activities in Georgia before moving to Mississippi as president of Mississippi Valley State University. His woes continued at MVSU as his relationship with faculty and alumni deteriorated. The college board rescued him and gave him more prominence by selected him to lead JSU.
After Bynum’s departure from JSU, the board appointed Hudson as president. His flaws were discussed in the aforementioned complaint. They were expanded, however, to include an expose of his ineffectiveness in dealing with charges of sexual harassment by personnel at JSU. Investigating such matters was his primary responsibility before being rescued by the college board appointing him as president.
This is the record of the college board’s appointments of JSU presidents. It stands beside the record or pattern of alleged sexual or gender discrimination which Dr. Debra Mays-Jackson cites in her court filing. Together they paint a damning picture.
When the story of Mays-Jackson’s lawsuit first broke, it did not receive much play by the media. That is still the case but it has the potential to bring about significant changes in Mississippi’s higher education system. This is particularly the case, if and when it gains broader support and becomes a springboard for what has been happening with Alcorn, Mississippi Valley, and Jackson State over the years.