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‘It needs to be discussed’: College board begins JSU president search without accounting for Hudson’s resignation

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‘It needs to be discussed': College board begins JSU president search without accounting for Hudson's resignation

The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees is moving ahead with the search for the next president of without first accounting for what went wrong with Hudson's presidency.

Hudson's resignation earlier this month made him the third straight president to resign from Jackson State, the largest historically Black university in the state and a cornerstone of economic development in Mississippi's capital .

So far, the board has not provided any information about the circumstances surrounding Hudson's resignation, saying only that it does not comment on “personnel matters.” This silence continued at a board meeting on Thursday when trustees said nothing about leadership at Jackson State despite weeks of press releases suggesting they would. Instead, after 20 minutes, the board voted to go into executive .

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Then at 5 p.m., the board sent out a press release announcing it would begin a search for Jackson State's next president. Steven Cunningham, the only Jackson State alumnus on the board, will chair the search. Listening sessions will be held this spring.

It is unclear if the board made a to commence the search during executive session. IHL's spokesperson, Caron Blanton, did not respond to questions by press time. Cunningham did not respond to a call or text from Mississippi Today.

Now, unanswered questions about the board's search are stacking on top of unanswered questions about Hudson's resignation.

C. Liegh McInnis, a poet, short story writer and retired Jackson State English instructor, said community members are wondering to what extent the board, with its unilateral power to hire and fire presidents, is responsible for the pattern of resignations at the university, or if Hudson's resignation was a fluke.

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“Whatever it is, it needs to be discussed,” he said. “Not only so it can be avoided, but because he (Hudson) was doing right in so many ways. He was a great fundraiser; he was a great face of the institution.”

McInnis said at a minimum, he thought it was important for the community to know if the Faculty Senate's “no-confidence” vote played a role in Hudson's resignation since that could affect the next president's .

But McInnis added that he does not expect more transparency because he “can't think of a time that the board has ever made a decision that works in the favor of HBCUs.”

“Name me one roach who likes when the lights are turned on,” he said.

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The board gives itself two options when it searches for a new university president, according to IHL policy: an extended search with a consultant or an expedited process in which the trustees interview candidates “that are known to the Board.” The board has latitude to flip-flop between the two types of searches.

The board used the expedited process to select Hudson's predecessor, William Bynum Jr., prompting outcry from the community and a lawsuit from Black lawmakers. Bynum's presidency ended in scandal after he was during a prostitution sting in early 2020.

At the end of 2020, the IHL commissioner, Alfred Rankins, acknowledged “there were some issues” with the search for Bynum during listening sessions. But the board still decided to forgo a national search and appoint Hudson.

McInnis said that while many community members were unhappy with the board's decision to appoint Hudson without a national search, they ultimately accepted the move because Hudson is an alumnus.

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He hopes the community will hold the board accountable to publicly discussing leadership at Jackson State and providing more information about why Hudson's presidency was cut short.

“They think they'll never have to address it,” he said. “The question becomes, who is going to push them on it?”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Mississippi’s sodomy law cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars, but it remains on the books

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mississippitoday.org – Taylor Vance and Molly Minta – 2024-06-25 04:00:00

Mississippi coughed up more than $400,000 this year to attorneys who sued the state over an unconstitutional sodomy law that criminalizes oral and anal sex, and if a similar suit is filed in the future, it could pay even more money. 

The Legislature appropriated and paid the fees to civil rights attorneys from multiple legal organizations after Mississippi Attorneys General Jim Hood and Lynn Fitch spent years defending the antiquated sodomy law — Mississippi Code Section 97-29-59. 

But Mississippi could be on the hook for even more fees, according to Matthew Strugar, an attorney who helped bring the case. That's because lawmakers this let die in committee a bill to repeal the state's “unnatural intercourse” law, which was primarily used decades ago to target LGBTQ+ and sex workers.

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Mississippi officials no longer prosecute people for consensual sex, but some people convicted in the past of sodomy are still required to register as sex offenders. 

This means the people who, due to a quirk of the , remain on the Mississippi Sex Offender Registry for sodomy convictions could sue the state at any time, Strugar said, even though state officials are no longer requiring those convicted of sodomy to register as sex offenders. 

Mississippi is “still vulnerable to a lawsuit from another person who remains on the registry,” said Strugar, who received a cut of the fees in early April via the Center for Constitutional Rights. Some of these people were convicted decades ago. 

The U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional laws that criminalize private, consensual sexual conduct in the 2003 case Lawrence v. . Even the conservative U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged Mississippi's law was unconstitutional when it reviewed and affirmed the attorneys' fees, the amount of which Fitch's office contested last year. 

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Initially considered a common-law , sodomy has been illegal in Mississippi since the state's founding and was codified into law in 1839. In the original 1890 state Constitution, sodomy was included in a list of crimes, along with rape, adultery and fornication, for which courts were allowed to exclude the public from attending or witnessing the prosecution. 

Strugar has sued a number of states over sodomy laws. He noted there are more problems with Mississippi's law than the possibility of more litigation. The law states: “Every person who shall be convicted of the detestable and abominable crime against nature committed with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term of not more than ten years.” 

The law is vague, Strugar said, lacking a description of what is a “crime against nature committed with mankind.” It also doesn't distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual oral and anal sex. 

“There's a lot you can do with a law that doesn't say what it's prohibiting,” Strugar said. “You can say it prohibits whatever you want it to prohibit.” 

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READ MORE: Mississippi to pay more than $400K in attorneys' fees over unconstitutional sodomy law

The same law is also Mississippi's only prohibition against bestiality. When people in Mississippi are prosecuted for bestiality, they are technically charged under the sodomy law, Strugar said.

This means some of the half-dozen or so men still on the registry could have committed sexual assault or had sexual activity with an animal, but Mississippians seeking to find information on sex offenders in their area would not be able to tell from the online data, which only lists them as guilty of sodomy.

The reason these men weren't from the registry has to do with how the case played out. It was originally filed as a class-action lawsuit in 2015, meaning if Strugar's clients had prevailed, Mississippi would have had to remove from its registry every person with a sodomy conviction. 

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But in an effort to work with the state, Strugar negotiated to delete the names of more than 30 Mississippi women who had been convicted under Louisiana's unnatural intercourse law and required to register as sex offenders in Mississippi. The move lowered the number of people with a sodomy conviction in Mississippi below the threshold needed for a class-action suit, forcing Strugar to represent people individually.

The men who remain on the registry are mainly poor, Strugar said, and likely not in a position to navigate the of getting in touch with a civil rights attorney. 

Still, Strugar said he and the other attorneys fought to invalidate Mississippi's law. They had hoped U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who initially ordered the state to fork over money in attorneys' fees, would take that step. Instead, he ordered the state to purge the plaintiffs from the sex offender registry.

“He is one of the most courageous judges in the country, but he still took a narrow ruling,” Strugar said. 

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The easiest way the state could protect itself from a similar suit in the future and avoid paying more fees is to repeal its sodomy law, which state Rep. Jeramey Anderson, a Democrat from , has tried to do for several years. 

Anderson has introduced a bill numerous times that would have simply deleted the “mankind” portion of the statute but left the bestiality part of the law intact, which would have essentially repealed the sodomy law.

“This law is discriminatory and it's antiquated,” Anderson told .

Last year, the House speaker's office referred Anderson's bill to the House Judiciary B Committee, which deals with criminal laws. The committee is led by Rep. Kevin Horan, a Republican from Grenada who is also a criminal defense attorney. 

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Horan said he doesn't remember the bill or recall anyone approaching him about it, so it would have easily fallen through the cracks during a chaotic legislative session. But the three-term lawmaker said he doesn't think he would have advanced it out of committee even if someone had asked him to pass it. 

“I can't say that I would take it up,” Horan said. “I wouldn't want to take it up in Judiciary B. I don't have any appetite for it.” 

Senate Appropriations Chairman Briggs Hopson, a Republican from Vicksburg who authored the bill doling out the money in attorneys' fees, did not respond to a request for comment about the appropriation bill or whether he thinks the expenditure was a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Lawmakers routinely appropriate tax dollars each year to go toward various legal cases.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Cheikh Taylor fends off challenger, wins full term as state Democratic Party chairman 

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mississippitoday.org – Taylor Vance – 2024-06-24 15:41:36

The Mississippi Democratic Party's executive committee on Saturday voted to make Rep. Cheikh Taylor its chairman for a full term, choosing the Oktibbeha County lawmaker over north Mississippi attorney and businessman Wil Colom, who also sought the position.

Jacqueline Amos, a National Democratic Executive Committee member from Mississippi, in a statement congratulated the state party's on winning the election to a four-year term and said with the regional and local party , they could Mississippi Democrats “onward and upward.” 

“It is a great day to be a Democrat,” Lee said. “Chairman Cheikh Taylor, who stepped up during our darkest hour last year, will now have a to lead us toward better days.” 

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Taylor is a two-term lawmaker who represents Oktibbeha, Clay and Lowndes County. The party voted last year to install him as its new chairman after it ousted former Court of Appeals Judge Tyree Irving over an email he sent to national Democratic Party

READ MORE: Ousted Democratic Party leader claims in lawsuit that he should still be in charge

The executive committee rejected Colom, who had been involved in state and national for decades, to lead the organization that has struggled to compete in a Deep South state dominated by the Republican Party. 

Colom, who was on the national finance committee for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, told executive committee members that he would have implemented a robust fundraising operation if they had chosen him to lead the state party.  

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Colom told on Monday that he was disappointed in some circumstances surrounding the executive committee's meeting but accepted the election outcome. 

“I hope the chairman is successful in the things he wants to accomplish,” Colom said.  

The committee's to keep Taylor as its chairman means it opted to keep some continuity in a party that decided to switch chairman in the middle of last year's statewide election cycle. 

If the organization had chosen Colom as the leader, he would have been the third chairman in a year. 

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

New Mississippi law makes ASL a foreign language credit

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mississippitoday.org – Simeon Gates – 2024-06-24 13:47:28

American Sign Language will count as a foreign language credit in Mississippi high schools, under a that goes into effect July 1.

The force behind Senate Bill 2339 is Pearl County high school teacher Miranda Loveless. Loveless teaches art and ASL at Pearl Central High School. She fell in love with ASL as a teenager, which led her to becoming a special education teacher.

“My hope for this new curriculum is not just for our whether they are hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf. My hope is that we can grow as a community to accept everyone no matter their hearing abilities,” she said.

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The new law calls for the state Board of Education to develop a curriculum related to the study of sign language and for any such class to count as an academic credit for a foreign language to meet high school graduation requirements.

Loveless got the idea for the bill after learning that there'd never been an effort in the to make ASL a foreign language in Mississippi schools. She reached out to state Sen. Angela Hill, R-, through the lawmaker's son, who took one of Loveless' sign language classes.

Hill said the law can incentivize hearing people to become translators. “The hope is that more young people will learn to communicate sign language and lead to potential careers in the field as translators for the hearing impaired,” she said in an email.  

There is a larger problem of with disabilities lacking sufficient accommodations in Mississippi schools. Chauncey Spears, whose daughter is deaf, says the new law will help deaf students who use ASL as their first language. 

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Chauncey Spears, right, with his daughter, Selasie Spears, who is deaf. He says Mississippi's new law allowing American Sign Language to count as a foreign language credit will help deaf students who use ASL as their first language. Credit: Courtesy of Chauncey Spears

Spears says there is a lack of for deaf students who use ASL as their first language. Many teachers lack proper , making it easier for students to fall behind. 

He said and at the Mississippi School for the Deaf started a movement to allow the state to classify deaf and hard-of-hearing students as English language learners. ASL is not English, and there is no written ASL for students to access written content in courses required for graduation. 

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students must learn written English, the language of most textbooks and other instructional materials. 

Spears hopes this curriculum change will be the first step towards change.

 “We are learning that there is untapped potential in these students and that their needs and potential can be better met with the proper investments and training and educational practices that can prove to be successful,” he said.

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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