JSU acting President Don Killingsworth discusses his background, vision for JSU

Acting JSU President Don Killingsworth speaks at the United Nations Day Tea on October 20. (Abigail Read/JSU)Acting JSU President Don Killingsworth speaks at the United Nations Day Tea on October 20. (Abigail Read/JSU)

Scott Young, News Editor

Dr. Don Killingsworth, a 1999 graduate of Jacksonville State University and current acting president of JSU, has expressed interest in assuming the presidential role full time.

Killingsworth began his academic career as a career consultant for American College Testing (ACT) and almost twenty years later, he was named the acting president of JSU.

“I have made them [the Board of Trustees] aware that I am interested in this position permanently,” said Killingsworth.

Killingsworth assumed the acting presidency on October 22 after the Board of Trustees terminated the employment of Dr. John Beehler as president.

Killingsworth, a native of Alexander City and a graduate of Benjamin Russell High School, said he grew up with an older and a younger sister.

“Alexander City was a great place to grow up,” said Killingsworth. “It was a smaller community. Of course, it’s a tourist area for Lake Martin, which is a big tourist area.”

After graduating high school, Killingsworth said he attended a community college and worked throughout his classes.

“I was going because my parents made me go and I’m thankful that they made me go,” said Killingsworth. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and it allowed me to stay in education.”

After his two years at community college, in 1994 he decided to advance his education and enrolled at Jacksonville State University, a campus he instantly fell in love with.

Killingsworth said that JSU is a “family affair” and that much of his immediate and extended family has attended JSU, including his younger sister who served as SGA president two years after Killingsworth’s SGA presidency.

“Most of the people down in Alex City go to Auburn because it’s 30 minutes down the road,” said Killingsworth. “I didn’t want to do that. I just fell in love with the [JSU] campus and the people.”

Killingsworth found his home in the geography department and said he encountered several instructors and mentors during his time at JSU, including Dr. Ted Klimasewski, a former instructor for the JSU geography department.

“He was a local meteorologist when we [JSU] owned the TV station down at Anniston,” said Killingsworth. “I might have taken eight classes he offered in geography. He taught me a lot. He taught me how to stand in front of a crowd and talk. He taught me about geography which I love.”

Killingsworth said that his other biggest mentor was Dr. Bill Meehan, who served as president of JSU from 1999 to 2015.

“He [Meehan] was my academic advisor when I was in undergrad and he was my professional advisor going forward.”

Killingsworth was elected SGA president for JSU in 1999 and spoke at the presidential inauguration for Meehan in January of that year.

“From that point on forward, he pushed me professionally and he was the main reason I was able to get my doctorate because he kept on and kept on pushing me,” he said.

Killingsworth said that most people who transition into the administrative side of higher education do so because of a “positive experience in student affairs”.

“Whether it be housing, residence, recreation or student life, all of these are part of the student affairs aspect and I think most people that decide this is a career have that positive experience,” he said.

After completing graduate school, Killingsworth found a job working for American College Testing (ACT), where he managed 21 states and helped them with “the software that would take students abilities and help them develop a career plan”.

“So, I would train counselors, high school counselors, college counselors, on how to use the software package to do that.”

After a year and a half working for ACT, Killingsworth returned to his collegiate alma mater in 2001 and received a position working as the coordinator of academic advisement for JSU. He worked with undecided, dismissed and suspended students to get them back on the correct path academically and worked closely with orientation, faculty advisors and training.

Later, Jack Hopper, a JSU vice president emeritus, trained Killingsworth to work in government relations, and when Hopper died in 2007, Killingsworth assumed the role as director of government relations.

Killingsworth went to the University of Alabama to earn a doctorate in higher education administration in 2016 after completing his dissertation the year prior.

After Beehler entered into a 90-day medical leave of absence on October 1, the university formed a management team consisting of Provost Christie Shelton, Vice President of Finance and Administration Jim Brigham and Killingsworth, who was then named acting chief operations officer. 

Three weeks later, he was named acting president by the JSU Board of Trustees.

Killingsworth said that, as acting president, he is working to pick up where Beehler left off and continue the ongoing campus tornado recovery. 

“I was just outside this office for three years,” said Killingsworth. “I thought I knew what was going on in here. I was a part of a lot of meetings that took place in here, but until you step in here, you’re like ‘woah’.”

Killingsworth noted bringing back summer graduation as one of his accomplishments as acting president, calling summer graduation a “no brainer”.

“We’re here for the students and we heard the students were upset that there was not a summer graduation, so we brought that back.”

He expressed concern with the existing color-coded parking system at JSU and said that his office is considering a change to it.

“I don’t know if the four zone parking system works right now,” said Killingsworth. “We may try to look at going to a two [zone system] – student and faculty and staff. I have a big problem with the students in a green zone who are trying to get to a class and they can’t park in a silver zone when the weather is bad and they get a ticket.”

Killingsworth further stated that he is looking into alternative parking spaces and proposed building parking decks on campus during an interview with WLJS on Tuesday, November 12. 

On October 30, the SGA hosted a town hall, with Killingsworth present, to allow students to ask questions and address concerns to JSU officials about the proposed dining hall and commuter meal plan introduced at the quarterly trustee meeting the week before.

Killingsworth said that he plans to make the town halls a regular thing, citing the practice of former president Dr. Harold McGee.

“He [McGee] would go sit up in the library in front of a table by himself and everybody could come in and they’d start throwing questions at him and he would sit there and answer questions about the institution,” said Killingsworth. “He did that and I remember that and I thought that was very successful. So, that’s easy to do and while I’m here, I will do.”

Killingsworth said that when he’s not at work in Bibb Graves, he’s with his family and loves to be in the outdoors.

“I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, so I am chasing toddlers around,” he said. “Right now, it’s being with my family and the two babies because they grow so quickly, so I’m making sure that I carve out time for family.”

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