Finding a dynamic new president for JSU in 2015

Dr. Timothy Barnett
Associate Professor of Political Science

A Special to The Chanticleer

It is with distinct pride that JSU faculty can reflect upon many positive developments during the administration of President William A. Meehan. A goodly number of persons offered observations of this nature during a November 2014 Faculty Senate meeting with representatives of Diversified Search—a nationally respected search firm tasked with the responsibility of helping JSU recruit a replacement for President Meehan when he likely retires after the Spring 2015 semester.

Recognizing the enormous challenge of replacing a President so endeared to the university and local community, the JSU Board of Trustees’ Search and Screening Committee asked the Senate Faculty and university at-large to participate in the quest for excellence by offering suggestions as to what to look for in presidential candidates. Commenting on the recommendations provided by the Senate Faculty, the Search and Screening Committee Chair, William Ronald Smith, expressed gratitude for faculty participation and helpful observations. As the recruitment moves forward, university personnel, students and alumni can be thankful for the professionalism and careful thought going into the critically important process.

While the Senate Faculty recommended that the Search and Screening Committee be attentive to candidates’ aptitudes and leadership experience in financial and budgetary matters, there was but limited discussion of the importance of leadership in matters of community economic development. Everyone realizes the importance of university presidents interfacing effectively with alumni, business leaders, and prospective major gift benefactors. But the leadership dynamic must go beyond fund-raising. In an era in which the National Center for Education Statistics expects American higher education growth to slow to 13.9% across the 2012–2022 period (less than 1.4% annually), many regional public universities will need more than strong academic and athletic programs. In many cases, sustainable enrollment growth will be predicated upon whether a university is situated in a locale where there is considerable availability of jobs that help students get through school, and jobs that brighten career prospects.

Auburn University and the University of Alabama are nationally recognized for academic excellence and robust athletic programs. But what many people don’t realize is that the cities of Auburn and Tuscaloosa both make recent lists of the fastest-growing college towns in the U.S. (2013 blog, One recent study puts the city of Auburn’s 2000–2010 growth rate at 23%, while Tuscaloosa’s growth during the period comes in at 16%. Population growth (especially when it reflects the expansion of high quality jobs) builds the backbone of a public university’s enrollment growth prospects, especially for regional universities like JSU with limited national draw.

Fortunately for JSU, the university sits in close proximity to several excellent economic development sites, including the land within the jurisdiction of the McClellan Development Authority. What is needed during the next chapter of JSU’s evolution is a visionary university president whose staff interfaces with corporate planners nationwide to attract high quality corporate operations to Calhoun County. The McClellan area could be a excellent site for national customer service and client support centers, communication operations, light and high tech manufacturing, and distribution support services. Jobs in these categories would trigger others. As the cost of living rises in major metropolitan areas, the area surrounding JSU has a great deal of quality-of-life appeal—a theme that should be strategically marketed. If JSU’s incoming president can lead in this area, the benefits will be felt widely.

One of JSU’s strengths is its welcoming attitude—a long tradition and point of pride at the school. Delightfully, JSU’s Marching Southerners lead the way in setting an inspirational and welcoming tone at the university. One finds little in the region any more awe-inspiring and exciting than seeing and hearing the Marching Southerners in action. Indeed, while the men’s football team had a spectacular season until they ran into the Sam Houston State Bearkats in the December 6, 2014 NCAA play-off game at JSU, the Marching Southerners had another resounding triumph on the field!

It is the excellence of the Marching Southerners that draws into such sharp contrast the disappointing nature of the disc jockey music played frequently during the football games and other athletic events in recent years. Music that depreciates human dignity or caters to hedonistic instincts fails to raise the image of the school or attract noble minds. Indeed, in trying to figure out the JSU football team’s twelve penalties for a massive 129 yards in the December 6 playoff game (SHSU had but 4 penalties for 37 yards), one might wonder whether too much of a beach party atmosphere was created for a JSU squad already distracted by the glory of winning the 2014 Ohio Valley Conference title.

Playing high quality defense requires a certain sobriety, focus, intensity and ability to calculate adjustments as the game unfolds. If the mind is blasted frequently with redundant, contemptible lyrics that are debilitating to the mental faculties, how are players to focus and read what is happening on the field or court? Interestingly, one annoyed JSU supporter gave a full-throated objection to the blaring nonsense—a protest barely audible in the din but clearly appreciated by the fans around him. Perhaps, though, some letters sent to the office of the JSU Athletic Director might be heard more consequentially. Indeed, more time for the Marching Southerners to inspire and less time for junk music to distract might help considerably when it comes to attracting and retaining the type of leader JSU hopes to find in its presidential search.

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