“If you’re walking through the Talladega National Forest and see a turtle on a fence post, you can be sure that it didn’t get there by itself.”
If you’ve ever been to a formal JSU function that Dr. John M. Beehler deemed worthy of his presence, you’ve heard that metaphor. At graduations, it’s followed by a round of applause for the family, friends and faculty that helped each student to this momentous occasion in their lives.
But let me break down everything that’s wrong with this metaphor and why it’s become more of a running joke among students than an actual illustration:
Turtles don’t belong on fence posts. Let’s just assume that this is a regular old box turtle sitting on this metaphorical fence post. If the turtle fell—which it probably would, because fence posts aren’t very wide, and the little fella is probably terrified—it could be seriously hurt or even killed. So, is Dr. Beehler saying that our loved ones put us in a potentially perilous situation?
Anyone over the age of four should know that turtles don’t belong on fence posts, so if someone did put a turtle on a fence post, they’d have to be a pretty cruel and sadistic human being. Does Dr. Beehler think graduates’ families are that mean-spirited?
There’s the whole matter of being in the Talladega National Forest. If a park ranger were to catch you putting a turtle on a fence post, they would have every right to report you, and you could be charged for animal cruelty. And Alabama’s animal cruelty reads as follows: “Cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor and on the first conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars ($3,000) or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both fine and imprisonment…” (Section 13A-11-14)
It doesn’t take much thought for the metaphor to fall apart. It’s true that college graduates never get to graduation alone. There are friends, family, faculty and staff, high school teachers and dozens of other people and groups who help us get there. These aren’t the people would intentionally put us in precarious situations.
But what if it’s a metaphor for JSU? It almost makes sense now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a student who hasn’t been inconvenienced by something JSU has done in recent years or is planning to do in the future. From the Financial Aid fiasco of Spring 2016 to signing Landon Rice and the clearly failed “It’s On US” campaign to increasing fees and tuition almost every year, it’s easy to feel that the administration is the hand putting you on a fence post you’re afraid to get off of.
And if I were to extend Dr. Beehler’s metaphor, I would say that a graduate’s friends, family, and teachers represent the person walking past a turtle on a fence post who has enough sympathy and intelligence to help it down and let it go about its way. They are the person who helps the turtle succeed.
So, in summary, if you’re walking in the Talladega National Forest and see a turtle on a fence post, just know that it didn’t get there by itself, it doesn’t want to be there, someone should be facing animal cruelty charges, and you need to be the person who helps the turtle instead of hurting it.
A group of students silently held posters at the back of the room during the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting on Monday. The signs bore messages like “It’s on us” and “To be part of the solution,” “To be proactive” and “To stop sexual assault.” They were gathered to protest JSU’s decision to sign Landon Rice to the football team.
Rice was signed to play football at Auburn University in 2016 but left the program in September of that year. A Title IX investigation conducted by Auburn found Rice “responsible” for an alleged sexual assault incident in April 2016. At the time, Rice was banned from Auburn’s campus until 2024. He was not charged with a crime. Rice transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before being recruited by JSU, and, in September 2017, Auburn’s ban was lifted.
Jessica Forbus, a 2016 JSU graduate organized the protest on social media with help from the JSU College Democrats.
“The idea for this protest stemmed from a desire to voice our concerns with the recruitment of Landon Rice,” Forbus said. “We chose to address the Board of Trustees meeting because we felt that it was our best chance to get in front of the people who make these decisions on campus.”
About 20 JSU students and community members took part in the protest, and a small group of students stood to the side in support of Rice. Following the committee meeting, the Board of Trustees gave one member from each side five minutes to address the Board.
Katelin Molan, a former student athletic trainer, took to the podium and alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a university student coach in August. Molan reported the assault, which occurred off-campus, to JSU’s acting Title IX director, Dr. Timothy King. The whole incident has tarnished her experience at JSU.
“JSU is signed up for multiple anti-sexual assault programs like It’s On Us and UMatter, but I see the guy who assaulted me everywhere I go, and no one does anything about it,” Molan said. “We have UMatter, but I don’t feel like I matter, and I don’t feel like other women in this boat have mattered, and that’s the problem that we have.”
Next, Spencer Goffigan, a former tight-end for the Gamecocks and a current graduate assistant football coach, spoke in favor of JSU’s decision to sign Rice.
“I’ve been around Landon Rice for the last week,” Goffigan said, “and I don’t know all the facts, but he told me his story, and I can tell you that Landon Rice is a good kid. Now, does that excuse his actions? No. Because, clearly, he’s not at Auburn University anymore, but he was not convicted by a grand jury and he passed a polygraph test.”
Goffigan concluded his portion by quoting Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Immediately following Goffigan’s discourse, Jeannie Volpe, the mother of current JSU students, stood up and expressed her concerned about the athletic department’s decision to pursue Rice through athletic recruitment.
“If JSU is legally obligated to accept this child, I understand, but what I don’t understand is why he was recruited or why anyone would make that decision,” Volpe said, “and I want you to know that if that was a decision you had a choice in, you will be personally responsible for my children if they’re hurt, and I hope that that weighs really heavily on you.”
Thomas Dedrick, the chairman of the Athletics Committee, assured listeners that JSU took all necessary actions before bringing Rice on campus.
“Every student at Jacksonville State University is important,” Dedrick said. “Every student deserves to be protected. Every student deserves to be able to come here and enjoy their college experience and not be concerned about their well-being, and we do all that we can to make sure that happens … This is not an issue to be taken lightly … if we had any question that this wasn’t the right thing to do, we wouldn’t have accepted him.”
In a statement after the meeting, JSU President John Beehler added that privacy laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevent the university from speaking about specifics related to Rice.
“There are privacy laws, so we can’t really say a lot, because the student is currently a student, and the privacy laws forbid us from releasing information that we may be privy to,” Beehler said. “All I can say is that both the Board and I are satisfied that due diligence was followed in the decision by the coach and the Athletic Director to bring this student to campus.”
Not all agreed.
“I’m disappointed in my university,” Molan said.
“I feel that the Board neglected to address the concerns of students, alumni, parents and staff in any meaningful way,” added Forbus. “Their lack of concern for the safety of students on campus has not gone unnoticed. I am disappointed in my alma mater’s acceptance of this individual’s behavior. In my final year, JSU committed to a campaign to end sexual assault. Simply saying “it’s on us” is not enough. It’s time to prove that Jacksonville State University has no tolerance for sexual assault.”
Of the students gathered to support Rice, most declined to comment on Rice to The Chanticleer. One man, who only identified himself as a childhood friend of Rice, refused to give his name but strongly supported Rice’s future at JSU.
“People who know [Rice] know he’s a great kid and tremendous kid. He’s probably the most respectful human that goes to this school … At any point in life, everyone has not respected the word ‘no.’ As a little kid, people don’t know what ‘no’ means. That’s why they should be disciplined to know what ‘no’ means.”
On Tuesday, Auburn University issued a statement to AL.com regarding Rice’s suspension: “Mr. Rice and Auburn disagreed about whether the process as applied to him was legally sufficient. A compromise was reached under which the suspension was reduced to one year, but the finding of responsibility remained. Once the suspension period expired, Mr. Rice was again in good standing.”
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at JSU. On Tuesday, November 28, President John Beehler, Dr. Pam Beehler and the JSU SGA invited students, faculty, staff and community to Bibb Graves Hall for the annual JSU in Lights tree-lighting celebration.
“My favorite part is the lights!” SGA President Ranger Rumrill said. “I enjoy seeing all of my friends and Gamecock family kick off the season by lighting up our beautiful campus.”
After a countdown from ten, President Beehler flipped the switch, and lights illuminated Bibb Graves. Additional lights can be seen at the President’s house, and a massive wreath hangs on the front of the TMB. The star on the top floor of the Houston Cole Library, which lit up on November 11 in honor of Veterans Day, will now be lit every night through the holiday season.
JSU in Lights also doubles as a community service opportunity each year. Guests were encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy to place under the Christmas in the Gold Room. The toys will then be donated to the Jacksonville Christian Outreach Center (JCOC) for families in need, ensuring that every child has a gift this Christmas.
“As members of the community, I think we play a huge role in setting a good example to our fellow neighbors and the future generations of our society by helping out those in need,” Rumrill said.
In addition to the toys guests brought, the Willow Tree boutique in Jacksonville presented the SGA with a check for $945 on Monday to benefit the JCOC.
The JSU Cheerleaders and Marching Ballerina—clad in Santa hats to match their traditional red and white “Santa suit” uniforms—were in attendance on Tuesday, and the JSU Show Choir provided entertainment, singing classic holiday songs like “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” After the official lighting, the show choir performed two choreographed numbers: “Puttin’ On the Ritz” from “Young Frankenstein” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Cocky, dressed as Santa Claus, posed for pictures with guests.
Following the lighting, guests were invited inside the Bibb Graves Gold Room for cookies and cider. While the cookies were gone before the crowd of roughly 200 were, guests could still admire the festive décor on the second floor of Bibb Graves, including two life-size nutcracker’s standing guard outside President Beehler’s office.
“Not only are we kicking off the Christmas and holiday season,” JSU President John Beehler said, “but, as you know, we are finishing up the semester and getting ready for final exams, and our professors are working hard to prepare those for you. I’m sure they’ll make them easy,” he joked.
Even though President John M. Beehler has only been on campus two months, he said he already feels at home in Jacksonville. “I grew up in a really small town in the Appalachian Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania called the Pocono Mountains. It’s very much like home here with all the mountains and nature,” Beehler said.
For the past two months, Beehler and his wife Pamela have been staying in the Patterson Hall dorms while their house is being renovated.
Since the renovations have been delayed, he believes they will not be living in the house until Thanksgiving. However, Beehler is taking advantage of living in the dorm.
During welcome weekend, he helped incoming students move in. “For about two hours I was carrying things up to dorm rooms with parents and students. It was sort of funny because some of them recognized me and some of them didn’t,” he said.
Beehler and his wife Pamela have been married for 37 years. She holds a doctorate in kinesiology (exercise science/human performance) from Indiana University and was a professor for 30 years.
“She works as a Chief Scientific Officer for a startup company that develops software to measure brain performance,” Beehler said. She also played softball and basketball at Penn State University.
“She can help the university not only in the social aspect of being a first lady, but also in academics and sports,” he said.
The Beehlers have one daughter who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serves as a Captain in the U.S. Army.
Beehler said that in order for JSU to prosper, the school would have to act more like a private institution. In response to declining state funding, he plans to implement a three-prong focus on enrollment, student success and fundraising.
“We have had a declining trend in enrollment which we need to reverse. My most immediate concern and project will be to try to find out what we are doing in enrollment and student success — because they go together,” Beehler said.
He plans to use his fundraising experience “to build a culture of philanthropy here.”
Beehler believes regional stewardship is a duty of state regional universities.
A large part of his mission as President is to try and help northeastern Alabama grow and prosper. “Our Education school can help local schools to improve; our business school can help businesses to improve. We can take the expertise we have and transfer it out through a lot of engagement and interaction with our community,” he said.
Beehler previously served as dean of the School of Business at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. Prior to working at Robert Morris, he served as founding provost and vice president for academic excellence and student success at the University of North Texas at Dallas, associate provost for economic initiatives and dean of the College of Business at Northern Kentucky University, dean of the School of Business at Wichita State University, and associate dean at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Beehler received his B.S. from The Pennsylvania State University.
He earned his MBA in Finance and Taxation and his doctorate in Accounting and Taxation with a minor in Law from Indiana University.
Beehler is a Certified Public Accountant and a graduate of the Harvard Institutes of Higher Education Management and Development Program and the American Academic Leadership Institute’s Executive Leadership Academy.