Oliver is board’s choice for MVSU president

Published 1:33 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The state College Board announced Monday that an official from a historically black college in Florida would be its choice to lead Mississippi Valley State University.

As the preferred choice, Donna Oliver will meet with faculty and staff at the historically black college in Itta Bena before the College Board gives final approval. Oliver, the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., will be on campus Oct. 21 for interviews.

Mississippi Valley State has been without a permanent leader since July 2007, when former president Lester Newman resigned. He stepped down after the faculty criticized his leadership style and called for his dismissal.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The board didn’t name any of the top candidates until Monday. Its decision may disappoint some faculty and staff at the campus who had supported Interim President Roy C. Hudson, who’s led the university since Newman’s resignation. Hudson has been at Mississippi Valley since 1973.

Earline Anderson, president of Valley State’s Staff Council, said faculty and staff are willing to work with whomever the board chooses to move the campus forward.

“I just certainly hope that the board gives Mississippi Valley a fair chance and gives us someone who is capable of moving us to the next level,” Anderson said, hours before Oliver was named.

Moses Newsome, chairman of the university search advisory committee, said the university is “indebted” to Hudson for his leadership. But Newsome said issues related to faculty and the university foundation are some of the reasons Oliver was selected.

“Given what this particular person brought to the table, we thought it would be better to start anew,” Newsome said.

Anderson, who is director of promoting research and curriculum enhancement, said the university’s main challenge is finances.

“We’re forced to do a lot of things with less resources. Because of that financial burden, we face challenges in our recruiting process,” she said. “We can’t get some of the programs we would like to have because we don’t have the resources. The only way to increase enrollment is to have programs that students are interested in.”

Valley’s enrollment declined this semester to just under 3,000, a decrease of 2.7 percent.

In February 2007, then-president Newman was the target of a “no confidence” vote by the Faculty Senate. He then sought to 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. He resigned before the College Board approved the changes.

Vince Venturnini, head of the Valley State’s Department of Social Work, also there had been progress under Hudson’s tenure at interim president.

“The best thing has been that we have been at peace,” Venturnini said. “We’d had some very tumultuous years prior to the last president’s resignation.”

Before joining Edward Waters College, Oliver had a career in K-12 public education as a biology and chemistry teacher. She also was a college professor. She was named National Teacher of the Year in 1987.

She received her undergraduate degree at Elon College in North Carolina and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina.