Edison O. Jackson inaugurated 6th President of Bethune-Cookman University


Karsceal Turner – I Got NEXT!

Dr. Edison O. Jackson holds the mace during his inauguration as President of Bethune-Cookman University at the Performing Arts Center, in Daytona Beach, October 16, 2013. (Photo credit: News-Journal/David Massey)
Dr. Edison O. Jackson holds the mace during his inauguration as President of Bethune-Cookman University at the Performing Arts Center, in Daytona Beach, October 16, 2013. (Photo credit: News-Journal/David Massey)

This feature actually began over two years ago, when Dr. Edison Jackson first arrived on the campus of my alma mater. Yours truly was able to be the first writer to interview “Doc” before all the pomp and circumstance related to inaugurations.

One thing I can say is the man has been the face of change. As I reviewed my notes from our interview, an approving grin went across my face. As an alumnus of B-CU, as a member of the greater Daytona Beach area, and as a member of the working media, I am able to confirm that the man has done every bit of what he said he would do, and this began last March.

The face of change

Gone are the days of personal bodyguards, inaccessibility, and fear of loss of employment. The official ushering of the new era went down October 16, but change was evident well before then.

Don’t believe me? Take a drive through campus on Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd headed east and look to your right. GONE is Cookman Hall, which once served as a men’s dormitory. It was the registrar’s office and also a classroom building, where I consistently failed algebra classes, as I daydreamed and looked out the window in 1995. In recent years, the building became an eyesore despite being on the National Register of Historic Places. Next to Cookman sits Harrison Rhodes Memorial Library, which hasn’t been a library since before I was a student. It served as home to the school of Social Sciences and slated for a $3.7 million renovation. Jackson also oversaw renovations of the Student Dining Hall at a cost of $2.5 million and the Gertrude Heyn Hotchkiss Memorial Chappel at approximately $1.5 million. Just this Fall, Jackson admitted the largest and the best academically prepared class of incoming freshmen in the history of Bethune-Cookman University.

The brother of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity has such a serenity and presence that one is drawn just to listen to him speak volumes of wisdom. Jackson is a member of The Grand Boule, Sigma Pi Phi and attends Allen Chapel AME church in Daytona Beach. He has been married to Florence Evora Jackson for half a century.

Coast-to-coast as a leader at Black colleges

Dr. Jackson is in no way new to this. His experience in working with Black Colleges is extensive – from coast to coast, literally. After graduating from Howard University, he embarked on a career at Compton Community College. In the midst of drive-by shootings he was able to establish an oasis for the pursuit of academic excellence.

“There was a sense of pride within in the community,” Jackson said. “Many City officials, including the Mayor and City attorney were Black. There was a sense of pride because one could see African-Americans in high places. They served as role models. It was the only city to have such a strong Black presence. This was known throughout California, he said. However it (the college), lost its sense of purpose; enrollment went down, there were infrastructure issues and there was a disconnection from academia. We went about restoring the reputation of the institution, we beautified the campus, worked on aesthetics and academics. Some faculty members were there just to get a pay check; we raised standards and retention lifted to 5,000. Students could have gone anywhere. Folks became proud of Compton because it was made a respectable place even in the midst of Crips and Bloods shooting it out not far from campus.”

Dr. Jackson: “This is serious business”

Medgar Evers is located in Brooklyn NY, where there was a small campus smack dab in the middle of the concrete jungle. “There was very little green space (about the size of my office here at B-CU). It was the anchor of the community but was largely abandoned by that same community,” he said.

Jackson’s tenure at MEC lasted 20 years, all the way up until he retired in 2009. He was recognized and credited for length of that tenure. He was instrumental in implementing a series of multi-year strategic plans, which increased student retention.

“Both of those institutions belonged to the community, they are our assets and we are to be stewards and good stewards. I take that task, very seriously. I know the power of education to transfer and change people’s lives for the better. To change ones destiny and allow people to soar like an eagle. This is serious business man!,” said Jackson.

“I was pushed and pushed. We must push our students,” Jackson continued. “The world is cruel outside; it’s not a game out there. We must teach students to negotiate this to their advantage; we’re talking about liberation of a people.” Dr. Jackson went about the task of changing the thinking on the entire campus.

“I removed the shackles,” he said. “When people are confined and aren’t allowed to use their God-given talents for the betterment of our people, then what is that?” I’m passionate about education and I’m passionate about my position here.

Need further examples of the strides made since Jackson arrived on campus? He re-established Freshman College to ensure new students a seamless transition from high school to college, he established a new honors college to engage students with 3.3 GPAs or higher, he opened course offerings to nights and weekends, to allow flexibility in schedules and allow non-traditional students access to education.

Protecting the value of degrees

“I told the alumni, I have a responsibility to make sure your degree continues to have value. If we don’t do what is necessary on this campus, it will devalue the degrees and I won’t be a part of such a charade,” said Jackson.

“We have an opportunity to do incredible and amazing work. Nobody is holding us back but us. I want people to feel good about themselves. People who feel hurt tend to hurt other folks. This is a healing process, when employees feel hurt and abused, they can’t help anyone else. We want to heal the brokenness,” he added.

In between the restructuring of programs and exceptional service to students, Jackson holds memberships in a plethora of civic organizations. He is interested in enhancing institutional operations, refining facilities, advancing the campus’ technological infrastructure, and enriching its global presence.

To serve and not be served is the mantra of Dr. Jackson. With servant-leadership as his focus, his vision is to ensure B-CU continues to not only provide a nurturing, learning environment for its students, but also becomes an attentive training, support and career development center.

From the looks of the campus these days, change has been good. There is visible new construction, new programs, a new attitude, and a new president, who relishes a relationship with his constituents. Life is good at B-CU these days.

All hail to thee dear B-CU, all hail to thee, all hail!

Hail thee Maroon and Gold. Amen.



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