Almost too perfect.
The only way you could get a more ideal fit for Jackson State University’s interim presidency was if you dreamed it up and dared a Hollywood producer to consider as a spec script for a TV One original movie.
Rod Paige, an alumnus, former football coach and once the nation’s top educator, will return to serve what officials say will be a seven month journey of rightsizing the school’s finances and towards its next permanent president.
“I am deeply honored and profoundly grateful to the trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and the Jackson State University family for providing me the opportunity to serve this great institution in this important capacity,” Paige said in a statement. “My life has been immensely enriched by Jackson State University, and I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to join the efforts of Jackson State’s many admirers in enhancing the possibility of others receiving the benefits of a great post-secondary education.”
Paige’s name first surfaced in public reports on the departure of former president Carolyn Meyers, just hours after her short letter announced her love for JSU, her expectation to get all of her money, and her anticipated departure date. Two days later, Paige confirmed his interest in the gig.
Now it comes true, and for HBCU observers, there’s growing odds on Paige, 83, doing a good enough job in interfacing with the Mississippi College Board, swooning alumni and saying the right things publicly, that a $33 million drop in cash reserves may just be a chapter in the storied history of Mississippi’s historically black flagship. And more than that, could lead into a longer appointment.
It’s nothing personal against Paige or his ability to help JSU, or how much people at JSU love and respect him, there’s something unsettling about how quickly a candidate’s name can surface and be revealed as a well-compensated agent of the state with charge over an all-important HBCU agency. And not just a provost or a dean getting the nod, but a high-profile executive pinch hitter who could talk JSU into, or out of, a number of important initiatives which could shape the future of the institution.
It’s ironic, given Paige’s gridiron background, that he was picked for this job this fast, when JSU wouldn’t even make this kind of splash for an interim football coach. Mississippi State and Ole Miss would not have made this kind of move. Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University weren’t given this kind of celebrity treatment on their respective presidential appointments.
So the College Board faces very interesting questions. Who will they find in the next few months that will be as welcomed, as respected and as valuable to JSU’s executive branding prospects as Rod Paige? Considering he’s been on their radar for at least a week, (and likely earlier than that) is there a plan to deliver a quality search, a compensation package and a promise of legislative support to bring in a permanent celebrity to replace the interim celebrity?
Or is the celebrity here to stay for a while?