Jackson State leads Mississippi universities in firings

By The Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 28, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.



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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Jackson State University has fired 351 employees since 2011, The Clarion-Ledger reports (http://on.thec-l.com/1OhOBFU ), and some former employees trace the firings to President Carolyn Meyers, questioning her leadership style.

The 9,800-student university has also outsourced 53 permanent positions during the period. The number of terminations exceeds the six other public universities that provided data to the newspaper. The University of Mississippi did not provide data.

A number of current and former JSU employees described a work environment where the wrong move could lead to retaliation or a pink slip.

"Complaints have not surfaced to me," Meyers wrote in a statement after declining an interview. "For the record, one cannot respond or address complaints unknown or uncommunicated."

Current and former JSU employees have sued the university approximately 20 times in federal court since 2011. The University of Mississippi has been sued five times, while Mississippi State University hasn't been sued at all during the same period.

Meyers was sued in two lawsuits and initially named in others before being dropped as a defendant.

Glenn Boyce, Mississippi's higher education commissioner, said turnover at universities doesn't fall under the purview of the state College Board.

"Our role here is certainly not to micromanage personnel decisions at institutions," he said. "We leave it up to presidents to ensure they have high-performing individuals in positions all through their campuses."

Retired dean Ally Mack says Meyers began "cursing like a sailor" at interim Provost Quinton Williams after a 2011 undergraduate commencement when he went over his allotted speaking time and removed him from the graduate commencement the following day.

"That was one of the first incidents when I thought something must be wrong with her if she's going to act so crazy over something so minor," Mack said.

A few months after the graduation, Meyers replaced Williams with Mark Hardy, a former dean in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. A year later, Meyers reassigned Hardy to the institutional advancement division and named James Renick interim provost.

Williams, who resigned from JSU to chair Howard University's physics department. He said Meyers raised the expectations for JSU staff, which changed the work environment.

"She definitely has a different leadership style than I was kind of used to," Williams said. "I'd say she's one who likes to see things happen on a quick pace, and if they don't happen quickly enough to her satisfaction, I think she's ready to make changes."

Although some former employees said Meyers is quick to anger, Williams described her as a reflective thinker.

During interviews with JSU employees, some said their experiences at JSU were positive and productive.

"I think the work environment is a great one," said Robin Pack, executive director of human resources. "We haven't had any issues, and I haven't been informed of anything that would be a hostile or difficult work environment."

Eleven employees at the assistant vice president level or higher have resigned or been terminated in the last five years. This year, Renick and Vice President of Finance and Business Michael Thomas resigned, and JSU records show Vice President for Institutional Advancement David Hoard was fired.

In an email to JSU staff announcing Renick's resignation in October, Meyers wrote: "There's the old saying to the effect that one cannot go to new places on the same road with the same driver. And remember, anyone who voluntarily resigns is obviously unhappy and possibly unable to fully commit to the university for various reasons, reasons which I do not question or explore."

Thirty-five athletic department staff members were fired during Vivian Fuller's tenure as athletic director, according to JSU records. Fuller also was also sued for sexual harassment and five additional employees sued, claiming they were fired for participating in investigations into the harassment. Although the harassment suit was dismissed, multiple employees have won large judgments over their retaliation claims.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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