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With no interim, board begins hunt for MVSU president

ITTA BENA — After failing to attract a temporary leader for Mississippi Valley State University, the College Board has decided to look for permanent president for the Itta Bena school.

College Board President Bob Owens has named five board members, led by Shane Hooper of Saltillo, to seek a new leader for Mississippi’s smallest public university.

Valley has been without a president since October, when the College Board declined to renew Donna Oliver’s contract after four years.

Alfred Rankins Jr., the College Board’s associate commissioner for academic and student affairs, has been acting president since October. The board tried to hire an interim president in January, but the candidate backed out. After that, board members said they were in no hurry to name a permanent president at Valley, saying the school needed administrative reforms.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said Saturday that improvements have been made to the school’s athletics program, student recruitment and data and financial processes. He said that a new president is unlikely to arrive until January at the earliest, and that there would be more time to bolster Valley.

“We’ve done a number of things to put the university on the right course,” Bounds said.

Still, he acknowledged that the search was unlikely to attract a large number of qualified candidates, unlike posts at Mississippi’s largest universities.

“I’m under no illusion that we’re going to have 50 or 60 candidates apply like we do for some other jobs,” Bounds said. “Finding the right president is going to be difficult.”

The board hired search firm Ayers & Associates of Arlington, Va., to lead the effort. Other College Board trustees on the committee besides Hooper are Hal Parker, Robin Robinson, C.D. Smith and Dr. Ford Dye.

A new leader at Valley will be under pressure to increase enrollment at the same time that population in the Delta region is decreasing. The College Board has focused on raising enrollment as a way to increase revenue when state support has been crimped.

Bounds said he doesn’t expect enrollment to rise at Valley next fall, although he said past record-keeping has been so poor that it’s hard to predict.

“We’re not there yet,” Bounds said. “Our hope is to arrest the decline.”

Valley has also struggled with discord among alumni and a tiny endowment. The commissioner said he expected College Board staff would continue to play a role in aiding Valley even after a new president is chosen.

“I do anticipate more intensive involvement by my office and my staff than you would see on our other campuses,” Bounds said.

Valley could be the third of Mississippi’s eight public universities to get a new president in the last year. Rodney Bennett was named to lead the University of Southern Mississippi, while Bill LaForge was tapped as president at Delta State University.

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