To say that the College Board and Mississippi Valley State University have had a tumultuous relationship over the years would be an understatement. But it appears that these two entities will, for the first time in a long time, finally be in one accord as they endeavor to put an individual in the president’s seat who is not only capable and competent, but possesses a servant's heart and a leader’s disposition. Valley deserves such a leader.
It is the consensus of many that past years of unprincipled leadership did little to ensure the sustainability or the viability of an institution that is critical to the Mississippi Delta. It is also the consensus of many in the Valley family (faculty, staff, students, and alumni) that Dr. William B. Bynum Jr. provided three years of dedicated and visionary guidance, stopping the “backward slide” that the institution experienced since the retirement of Dr. William Sutton.
For every step that Dr. Bynum took as he moved the institution forward, Dr. Jerryl Briggs walked alongside him. If Dr. Bynum was Valley’s “Captain Kirk,” then Dr. Briggs is most definitely “First Lieutenant Spock.” Accordingly, he is the only logical choice to serve as its president.
In its usual fashion, the College Board has commissioned a search committee. That committee (tasked with reviewing resumés, scheduling interviews and vetting candidates) visited the campus last week to conduct listening sessions with the university’s primary stakeholder groups (faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community). To a group, there was resounding and emphatic support for Dr. Briggs. The majority understood a very simple premise: It makes far more sense to choose an individual who has proven himself for three years than to choose one who visits the campus for three hours. Hopefully, the board will govern itself accordingly.
For the past three years, Dr. Briggs has “interviewed” for the position of president. He is deliberate, intelligent and committed to our institution and its students. As executive vice president, second in command, he was intimately familiar with and involved in the operations of the university (internal and external). Though rarely in the spotlight, he served with dignity and discipline. What distinguishes him even more is the fact that he wants to be Valley’s president. He sincerely believes in its mission and in the potential of its students.
I had the privilege of serving during the administration of one of Valley’s greatest leaders, Dr. William Sutton. During his tenure, Dr. Sutton led Valley out of certain closure and merger through his tenacity and his unwavering, unapologetic commitment. I am confident that Dr. Briggs is cut from the same cloth. He is the change that we have been waiting for.
One of the lessons that I’ve taught my children is that “anything common is not special.” The Mississippi Delta is not “common” — it is a special place. Mississippi Valley State University is not “common” — it is a special institution with a special mission that is as relevant today as it was in 1950, a special group of expert faculty and staff, a special group of alumni who have distinguished themselves in every known profession, and a special group of students who have the potential to stand “toe to toe” with any of their peers anywhere in the world. So it is that only a special individual will possess the fortitude and the courage to lead the institution into its purpose and its place in higher education.
Do we have our share of challenges? Of course we do. But with a chief executive officer who is willing to stay the course and fight the good fight, we also have the capacity to use what is right with us as we fix what is wrong with us.
Dr. Bynum laid the foundation, but he has been promoted to captain of another ship. There is only one person fit to command the “Enterprise” at this point, and that person is Dr. Briggs.
• Troy D. Brown Sr. is a contractor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former dean of students at Mississippi Valley State University.