Ross: Merger talks didn't affect decision to leave

JACKSON — Alcorn State University President George E. Ross says a proposed merger of the state’s historically black universities didn’t factor into his decision to take a new job in Michigan.

Ross will leave Alcorn and become president of Central Michigan University in March. The state College Board announced his departure on Thursday — weeks after Gov. Haley Barbour proposed merging Alcorn with Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University.

Ross, who has been at Alcorn State nearly two years, said he had been eying the presidency at Central Michigan for about two months. Ross said he was approached after several colleagues nominated him for the position.

“My departure has nothing to do with Gov. Barbour’s proposal,” Ross said Friday during a teleconference with reporters in Mississippi and Michigan.

Ross also said he didn’t believe his departure would have any impact on the proposal.

He said Alcorn State, the nation’s first historically black land grant college, is the largest employer in southwest Mississippi.

“I do not believe my leaving will affect his proposal whatsoever,” Ross said. “While it will be challenging for public universities, Alcorn State will be there.”

Ross reiterated his opposition to the merger plan, which Barbour has said will save the state millions. Ross said he didn’t have access to information showing where the savings would come.

“Gov. Barbour, the Legislature and the state of Mississippi are facing tremendous financial challenges, as are governors and legislators around the country. I fully understand the financial pressures on the governors,” Ross said.

The proposal was part of Barbour’s budget recommendations for the legislative session that begins in January. Several lawmakers have said they oppose combining the three institutions. Barbour also proposed merging Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said he met with alumni from the three historically black universities this week. Bryant also asked Senate Colleges and Universities Committee Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, to hold hearings on the plan.

Bryant said he assured the alumni this week “there would be no rush to judgment concerning the possible consolidation of any university in Mississippi.”

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press