OPINION: College Board appoints Dr. Marcus Thompson as JSU President, allaying fears, but also raising questions

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Dr. Marcus Thompson

On Thursday, November 16, hours after its regular monthly meeting, the college board issued a press release, naming Dr. Marcus Thompson as the next president of Jackson State University. This ended a year-long period of speculation which included a search process that reputedly involved a pool of more than 70 applicants.

Thompson, who has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood, K-12, and higher education, is currently serving as deputy commissioner of higher education and the chief administrative officer of the Office of Institutions of Higher Learning. He is scheduled to begin his tenure as president on November 27, 2023. This is earlier than the originally announced date of January 1, 2024.

Thompson received a bachelor’s degree in history and Spanish and a master’s degree in education from Mississippi College, which would not have been the choice for some JSU alumni. He did, nevertheless, receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree in urban higher education in an accelerated, week-end program. He has licenses in elementary education and endorsements in English, history, mathematics, and Spanish. He has served in the Mississippi Department of Education as Assistant to the State Superintendent and Chief of Staff and with the Office of State Institutions of Higher Learning. These experiences show him to have had a well-rounded and exceptional career as an educator.

On the other hand, many critics of the manner view the nature and longevity of those experiences with skepticism. More than a few wonder out loud whether it may indicate that Thompson fits too well in the “ole boy” network.

The announcement of Thompson’s appointment drew praise from Dr. Rod Paige, who has served as former secretary of education and former interim president of Jackson State University. It also drew support from Mississippi Senator Sollie Norwood, who considers Thompson a friend. JSU National Alumni Association President Patrease Edwards offers the association’s support, but adds, “We are hopeful that he will be a capable administrator with the ability to bring stakeholders together to achieve common goals. His leadership and vision to secure resources, philanthropic support, and business partnerships for JSU will be key and a catalyst for the growth and continued success of the university.” That kind of concern, mixed with a willingness to be supportive, is reflected by other alumni and well-wishers.

It appears that within days, Thompson will be sworn-in as JSU’s 13th president. If and when that happens, it will allay a fear that has been alive and well for decades, that the college board would appoint a white president for JSU. There had been rumors this month that Dr. Hank Bounds would be appointed its president. With Bounds’ denial that he was a candidate and Thompson’s acceptance of the position, some will rest easy, at least for a while. 

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OPINION: College Board appoints Dr. Marcus Thompson as JSU President, allaying fears, but also raising questions

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
November 27, 2023