Rogelio V. Solis/AP
The president of Jackson State University was arrested in a prostitution sting at a Clinton hotel this weekend, authorities announced Monday.
William Bynum Jr. allegedly gave officers a fake name when he and 16 other people were arrested in the prostitution ring. Clinton police have charged him with procuring the services of a prostitute, false statement of identity and possession of marijuana.
Shortly after news broke of his arrest, the state College Board announced Bynum’s resignation and an emergency board meeting to address the situation.
Who is Bynum? And how did he get to JSU?According to his biography on JSU’s website, Bynum, 57, is “a God-loving, God-fearing man” who has six children with his wife of about four decades.
He grew up in North Carolina, earned a teaching degree from Davidson College and earned master’s and doctorate degrees from Duke University, his biography said.
Bynum worked as an administrator at Morehouse College before serving as president of Mississippi Valley State University for four years, his biography said. The board of the Institutions of Higher Learning selected Bynum to be JSU president on May 31, 2017.
He was a controversial pick.
Bynum was one of several finalists, but he did not have the backing of JSU alumni.
According to then-JSU National Alumni President Yolanda Owens, the committee of JSU supporters tasked with interviewing candidates were opposed to Bynum’s selection.
Owens wrote an open letter to then-IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce, saying that the committee unanimously supported a different candidate.
“It should be noted that Bynum was among candidates that did not receive a favorable review and was not invited to advance in the search process,” Owens wrote. “In fact, the JSU (Interview Search Advisory) Committee unanimously expressed serious concerns about his candidacy. At the conclusion of the first-round interviews and following deliberation with the board about the candidates, we were assured Bynum was no longer under consideration.”
JSU’s student body president at the time asked IHL to reconsider the choice, saying it was “blatant disregard for those of us on the committee.”
A group of black lawmakers filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court to try to block IHL from naming Bynum.
But the IHL board went with Bynum anyway.
Bynum was JSU’s 11th president.
“I know I may not be your choice, and that’s your choice,” Bynum told students and alumni in 2017. “The board made a choice, and I accepted. All I say is to watch me work.”
One student, Jauan Knight, told Bynum during a session with students, “We have a lot of concerns about your selection … It seems like you weren’t vested in Valley.”
Bynum said he was following God’s will when he went to Valley.
“Not one Valley alumni has said I sold you out,” Bynum said. “Valley’s family is OK with me.”
Knight replied, “People at JSU would prefer you stay at Mississippi Valley State University.”
The Clarion Ledger reported in 2017 that Bynum’s salary was $375,000, of which $75,000 came from a JSU foundation. The salary was $154,500 more than what his predecessor made — and it came as JSU was in the middle of financial crisis.
In October 2018, JSU held an investiture ceremony for Bynum. According to a press release from the event, family and friends said Bynum was deeply committed to his faith.
When Bynum addressed the crowd, he quoted scripture, according to the release, which likened him to a pastor “standing in the church pulpit preaching to his congregation.”
His daughter recounted how Bynum likes to wear an “all-white linen outfit, Charlie Sheen-ugly shirts that he refuses to throw out, Jesus cook-out sandals,” according to the release.
“He has always put family first, and he makes it his duty, amongst many other things, to make sure that he makes memories that last a lifetime,” his daughter said.
A man who had been mentored by Bynum also spoke, saying: “Dr. William B. Bynum is not the president of Jackson State University by default. He is the president of Jackson State University by God’s design.”
Enrollment declined under Bynum’s tenure.
In fall 2016, before Bynum took over, enrollment was at 9,811, according to JSU. That number dropped to 7,020 last fall.
During 2017 and 2018, JSU faced significantly steeper declines in student enrollment than other public universities in Mississippi.
The drop was caused by the school’s decision to cut back on student financial aid as it wrangled with its financial crisis, the Associated Press reported, and by 2018, JSU had its smallest enrollment since 2003.
Eddie Payton, a well-known alumnus and brother of JSU football legend the late Walter Payton, said he was not surprised when he heard about Bynum’s arrest.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Payton said, who added that his phone has been ringing continuously as news began circulating this morning.
Payton said he hopes the criminal allegations against Bynum are not true, but it will regardless be a “black eye” for the institution.
“I know what it means for Jackson State to be successful and to be the pinnacle of what the other (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) try to be like,” Payton said. “… It’s depressing.”
Whoever is the next president must have the vision needed to JSU headed in the right direction, Payton said, which is something he did not see in Bynum.
“As an administrator, I would scratch my head over what he’s been able to accomplish at this point,” Payton said. “… I have not seen it.”
The IHL board went into an emergency executive session just after noon Monday to discuss interim leadership at JSU. Board members joined by phone. When the meeting reopened to the public, the board immediately adjourned without reporting any action on an interim president. IHL Commissioner Alfred Rankins Jr. left without talking to reporters.
“We didn’t learn much,” said Ivory Phillips, a former JSU professor and education dean who attended the meeting. “My suspicion is, probably within 24 hours or so they will name an interim, and then we’ll begin the search process all over again. And that search process (will be similar to) the ones in the past – that is, there’s an advisory committee that’s appointed, but their advice is almost never listened to.”
Bynum was the latest of a string of presidents who had short stints at the school, and were generally “wrong fits” for the campus and community, Phillips said. With Bynum’s hiring in 2017 there was a general sense on campus and among alumni that he was “not a good fit for Jackson State,” and that the IHL board pushed through his appointment over significant opposition.
The complaints against IHL about Bynum’s selection mirror complaints made by the University of Mississippi community, following the surprise selection of Boyce as its president late last year.
In that case, the IHL board short-circuited its own selection process and picked Boyce — who at one point was tasked with leading the selection process — leading to dismay from stakeholders and protests on campus.