By The Associated Press
JACKSON — Jackson State University has hired Vivian Fuller as its first female athletic director.
University President Carolyn Meyers introduced Fuller at a news conference Wednesday.
The 56-year-old Fuller replaces Bob Braddy.
“I’m excited to be a Tiger,” Fuller said. “Jackson State has such a long and proud tradition. I look forward to honoring that tradition and helping our student athletes be the best they can be.”
The daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper, Fuller has spent eight years at Sojourner-Douglass College, where she is dean of the Cambridge, Md., campus.
She also has been an athletic director at University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Tennessee State University and Northeastern Illinois University.
“Vivian Fuller’s leadership skills, along with her experience as an athlete, academician, and director of athletics at three institutions, make her the best choice for Jackson State University at this time,” said Meyers. “I’m very confident that she will be able to lead our athletics programs to prominence, ensuring that JSU student-athletes succeed on the field or court as well as in the classroom.”
One of her biggest immediate challenges will be in football.
Coach Rick Comegy is in the last year of his contract, and the program is ineligible for the 2011 SWAC championship game because of failing scores on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate. If APR scores fall a fourth straight year at JSU, there could be worse penalties, including NCAA expulsion.
Asked about these problems, Fuller said she prefers to think of them as challenges.
She said she’ll keep track of the rates and that there will be academic monitoring and help.
She will see what works and what doesn’t in order to improve scores, she said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Fuller said she plans to start programs aimed at rewarding student-athletes who excel in the classroom.
Fuller has had challenges of her own.
In 1997, Fuller took over as athletic director at Tennessee State, becoming the first black woman to hold the position at a Division I school with a football team. The football team went 9-3 and won the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
Fifteen months later, the president fired her. He cited 24 reasons, including more than $1,500 in penalties for missing a state tax filing date and failing to respond to student requests for scholarship reinstatements. No details of the complaint or the retaliation were given. Fuller sued the school and settled out of court.
She went to University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. By 2003, she had left for Sojourner-Douglass College, where she has been an administrator and assistant athletic director.
Fuller said Wednesday that those problems are all in the past.
At Tennessee State, “the president wanted to move in a new direction,” she said. “I came to Jackson to move forward.”
An advocate of Title IX and women’s sports, Fuller testified before a Senate committee on equity in women’s sports and minority participation.
To promote better attendance at some of JSU’s women’s games, she said the first thing to find out is whether media guides are offered for those sports.