Alums say state College Board shutting out ASU complaints

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2001

[07/27/01] Citing the departures of presidents of two Mississippi universities this year, a local group of Alcorn State University alumni says the College Board has turned deaf ears to their complaints about ASU President Clinton Bristow.

“I don’t understand, with the taxes we pay, not having a grievance procedure,” said Charlie McClelland, a 1964 ASU graduate from Jackson who wants Bristow removed from his post at the 3,000-student university at Lorman. “You can’t get past Layzell.”

Tom Layzell is the state’s commissioner of higher learning. After meeting with Bristow, head football coach Johnny Thomas and three ASU alumni in January, Layzell has refused two requests by the alumni to meet again.

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Another Alcorn alumnus and former president of the national ASU alumni association, Jim Stirgus Sr. of Vicksburg, said he thinks the stonewall is because of Bristow’s longtime relationship with Layzell.

Before he became Alcorn’s president in 1995, Bristow was dean of the college of business at Chicago State University in Chicago and president of the Chicago Board of Education. The same year, Layzell came to Mississippi from Springfield, Ill. He was the first appointed chancellor of the Illinois Board of Governors Universities for 10 years.

“I don’t think Layzell can be objective about Bristow,” Stirgus said. “I believe that.”

John Walls, president of Alcorn’s Vicksburg-Warren Alumni Chapter and a member of the president search committee when Bristow was hired, said Bristow was not someone the group recommended to the College Board for Alcorn’s top post.

Pam Smith, the IHL’s assistant commissioner for public affairs, confirmed that Layzell and Bristow worked together for many years in Illinois. Layzell did not return phone messages left at his office Wednesday and Thursday. Instead, Smith, who serves as the College Board’s spokesman, responded.

“The board is well aware of the concerns about athletics and personnel matters, but they’re supportive of the president as he works on this matter,” Smith said. “The board has found it is best for issues to be handled with the university’s administration and the groups raising those issues.”

Walls, a 1968 graduate of Alcorn whose son is on the school’s golf team, said his frustration with Bristow goes deeper than athletics. “It’s about the total direction of the university,” he said.

When Bristow retained Thomas as the Braves’ head football coach after the team lost every game last year, nearly 200 frustrated alumni rallied at the Lorman campus in February for the removal of both men. The 2000 football season was the first losing streak the team had seen in 42 years.

Many alumni have refused to attend this year’s home football games and have agreed to pull other financial support from the university.

Stirgus is one of them. “Clinton Bristow has made me lose respect for my alma mater,” he said. “I do not think he has exemplified the type of leadership essential to move Alcorn forward.”

Stirgus said he has not encouraged students to attend Alcorn since Bristow has been president. He also decided not to establish a scholarship fund at the school for his grandchildren, who would be the third generation of the Stirgus family to attend Alcorn.

“It’s no longer an option for me,” Stirgus said. “I can’t tolerate it.”

Bristow did not return a telephone message left at his office Thursday. A receptionist said he will not be in his office until Monday.

While his tenure has been marked by building and other improvements at the Lorman Campus and the addition of a master of business administration degree program on the Natchez campus, Bristow has also draw fire for the expensive, well-landscaped home built for him at public expense.

Since June, two presidents of Mississippi universities have resigned from their posts after pressure from the College Board. After 12 years as head of Mississippi University for Women and a seven-hour session with the board last month, Clyda Rent resigned June 30. Faculty at the Columbus school had been trying to oust her since 1999.

Three weeks later, University of Southern Mississippi president Horace Fleming resigned from his position after refusing a one-year extension to his contract from the College Board. Accepting the offer would be “doing a disservice to the institution I love so dearly,” said Fleming, who had led the Hattiesburg school since 1996. Though he was given a vote of confidence by USM’s Faculty Senate earlier this month, alumni criticized Fleming for not spending enough money on athletics and for his handling of the school’s finances.