During address at alumni convention, interim president talks about campus improvements, community relations
BY JAMES HARPER
Dr. Edison Jackson says when he was contacted to come serve as Bethune-Cookman University’s interim president, he was not looking for another job.
“This is a new season. I am a vessel of the Lord. I didn’t come seeking another presidency. God had another plan. I got the call to come,” said Jackson who had recently retired as president of Medgar Evers College in New York City.
Jackson was presenting the “State of the University Address” at the 44th Annual Bethune-Cookman University National Alumni Convention in Daytona Beach on June 21 at the Daytona Beach Resort and Spa.
In a frank speech in front of 200 alumni, he called the current structure at B-CU a “recipe for hell” and plans to stop what he calls a disjointedness that exists.
His goal is to improve the environment on the campus so staff “can be all that they have been called to be.
“Deans are fabulous, but they have been shackled. I’m removing the shackles,” he said.
Jackson also noted there are people working for the university who have retired mentally but are still on the job.
“Execute your paperwork for full retirement,’’ he urged, adding that the students are what is most important at the university.
“This is serious business. No time to be playing games. It’s about transforming lives,” Jackson continued.
During the conference, Jackson was presented a key to the city by Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey.
“Community, you are welcomed (on the campus). B-CU belongs to you. There are no gaps between town and gown. How can we sit in Daytona Beach separate and apart from the community,” Jackson questioned.
‘Putting God back on the campus’
Jackson said he is excited about being at the university and “there is a new wind blowing on the B-CU campus.”
He further called himself “a child of the King” and stressed that he lives his faith and will be “putting God back on the campus.”
“I cannot say I believe in God and not have folks that are not doing the same. This institution was founded on faith,” Jackson said.
Jackson opened his address with “O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together,” which he received a hardy number of amens.
New board chairman
Jackson was introduced to more than 200 alumni by Dr. Larry Handfield, chairman of B-CU’s board of directors. Handfield helped to choose Jackson, who became B-CU’s interim president on May 13.
Handfield told those who work for B-CU at the luncheon: “If you don’t have the right attitude, you need to find another place of employment.”
“In less than a month, he has transformed the university and is making his blueprint,” said Handfield, who will be officially stepping down as chairman of the board on June 30 but will remain as a trustee for another three-year term.
The Rev. John Harrington takes over as chairman on July 1 for a three-year term. Handfield said Jackson has a track record of coming in and turning things around.
“He is the right person, at the right moment at the right time,” Handfield stated.
More Black male students wanted
Jackson also told the alumni it is time “we stop talking and start doing.”
“We are going to do what we say. We are restructuring much of what we do at this university,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he also wants to see more Black men on campus.
“We are going to do great things, increase Black male enrollment. The brothers got issues. We got to find some way to help them,” he said.
Jackson also had advice for young women thinking about attending B-CU.
“Ladies, some behavior needs to stay on the block. Have to protect integrity of the degree,’’ he said to laughter.
“If you are not ready to grow with us, you need to stay at home. We are not going to lower our standards. We need to be honest with our people,” Jackson added.
More certificate programs, degrees
Instead of remediation, his aim is to pull up those students who are deficient.
“We are about the business of healing hurt people,” he said. “We are talking about producing winners.”
Jackson also said it is time B-CU becomes a “true university”.
A university not only teaches students, but Jackson said there also needs to be research and community service taking place.
“Can’t act like we are a college anymore,” he declared.
Jackson says his goal is to add certificate programs and more degrees.
“We are going to become a powerhouse. We have got to become more than we have been,” he continued.
The interim president admitted he will be facing challenges.
“But I’m already fortified. God is going to see us through. Some of us have forgotten the bridge that brought us over. Something is happening in the atmosphere of B-CU. I didn’t make it happen. God is making it happen,” he related.
Jackson said after the first semester listening and learning more about the school, he plans to teach at least one class the second semester.
He concluded his address with a message to alumni, which brought more laughter: “What I want you to do. I want you to write some checks.”