Valley president Lester Newman resigns

Published 10:09 pm Saturday, June 23, 2007

Lester C. Newman, the embattled president of Mississippi Valley State University, announced his resignation Friday, effective July 15.

Newman, 55, was the target of a “no confidence” vote by the Faculty Senate of the historically black college in February. Since then, Newman sought to create a committee of faculty and administrators to improve communications and undertook a reorganization that saw many longtime staff members moved to other jobs at the 3,100-student campus at Itta Bena.

He had hoped to get the reorganization approved by the state College Board in July.

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Newman and College Board members met behind closed doors this week. Newman declined to comment after leaving the meeting.

“I have a great love for Mississippi Valley State University,” Newman said in his resignation announcement. “It is because of my love for Valley that I have made this decision. It is my hope that the faculty, staff, students and alumni will continue on the journey that we started toward pre-eminence and move the institution to new and greater heights.”

Newman said he would explore other opportunities, but did not say what they were.

Higher education commissioner Tom Meredith said an interim president would be named before July 15 and the College Board would proceed from there to find a permanent president.

“President Newman has moved Mississippi Valley forward on many fronts. We are indebted to him for his efforts,” Meredith said in a statement.

College Board president Stacy Davidson Jr. of Cleveland said: “The board appreciates Dr. Newman’s years of service to Mississippi Valley and to our state. We wish him well as he explores other opportunities.”

Many faculty and alumni had called for Newman’s firing. Many were critical of his “micromanagement” leadership style, and claimed he was a poor manager and exhibited unprofessional behavior toward MVSU supporters, including staff.

“I’m glad this matter is finally resolved so we can focus on providing our students the education they deserve, because that’s the reason we’re here,” said Michele Crescenzo, vice president of the MVSU’s Faculty Senate.

Sam McNair, a university associate professor of industrial technology, had openly criticized Newman’s leadership since February.

“Dr. Newman was taking us in a direction we didn’t need to be going in,” McNair said Friday. “I wish him well in whatever he goes to do. I wish him the best of luck.”

Samuel Osunde, associate professor and chairman of the communications department, had opposed the call for Newman to resign.

“We need to unite and move forward for the sake of the students,” said Osunde. “(Newman) did his best and I wish him well.”

Newman, who earned $183,750 a year, said the university experienced significant growth and development in a variety of areas during the past nine years. He said school has had an increase in enrollment and salaries and academic programs had improved.

“I will leave Mississippi Valley State University with a great sense of pride in what we have been able to accomplish as an institution under my leadership,” said Newman. “I sincerely hope that those who love the university will rally behind its new leadership and move forward to make Valley the premier regional institution that I know it can be.”

Newman, a native of Shreveport, La., and a graduate of Southern University in Baton Rouge, became Mississippi Valley State’s fifth president in July 1998. He succeeded William Sutton, who served as president for 10 years. Newman came to Valley from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., where he was vice president for academic affairs.

Valley is one of three historically black universities in Mississippi — the others are Jackson State and Alcorn State.

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