Timeline: The John Beehler era at JSU

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John Beehler tornado

JSU president John Beehler addresses reporters at a news conference days after an EF-3 tornado tore through the university's campus, leaving major damage in its wake. 

John Beehler's tenure as Jacksonville State University's president has coincided with high points, low moments and big headlines for the campus. JSU's board of trustees on Tuesday voted to terminate his employment.

John M. Beehler interview

John M. Beehler speaks during his interview visit to JSU in May 2015 prior to being named president.

April 13, 2015 - Beehler interviews on campus, the second finalist to do so. “I really think this university has a soul. I don’t know how to explain it,” he told an audience of faculty and staff in a public portion of the interview. “A university that has a soul is going to do the right thing.”

May 8, 2015 - Trustees name Beehler their choice for JSU’s presidency, ending the 10-month search for Meehan’s successor. Beehler’s contract is for three years at an annual salary of $300,000, the top of the range trustees set when they began the search. He is to begin work July 1.

July 20, 2015 - Trustees approve a $326,927 renovation project at the on-campus president’s home, which hasn’t seen upgrades since the Meehans moved in 16 years earlier. Beehler and his wife, Pam Beehler, live in a suite in a campus dorm while the work is being completed. “It was well kept up, and it's a great building,” trustee Ronnie Smith told The Star. “But over time, things need to be modernized, and certainly from the standpoint of energy efficiency, the windows and doors were not sealed as well as they could be.”

Sept. 28, 2015 - JSU announces that enrollment has declined to a 15-year low, just five years after reaching an all-time high. The week before, the university had advertised a new administrative position: vice president of enrollment management. (Cherise Peters, hired for the new post in April 2016, was gone less than a year later. Beehler would not explain Peters’ departure, but JSU paid her a $110,700 settlement five months after her departure, records show. JSU hired a new associate vice president of enrollment management in May 2018.)

John Beehler in Frisco

JSU president John Beehler poses with the university's mascot, Cocky, during a pre-game pep rally in Frisco, Texas, where the Gamecocks played in the FCS national championship football game in January 2016.

Jan. 9, 2016 - JSU’s football team plays in the Division I FCS championship for the first time, losing to perennial champion North Dakota State. The unprecedented national attention on the program and the university, which Beehler later said was helping JSU to market itself to prospective students. 

Feb. 23, 2016 - Personal information about JSU students, faculty and staff taken from a university database is made publicly available on an unaffiliated website. “We’re doing our due diligence to try to find the extent of the breach and what information may have gotten out and mitigate the damage,” Beehler tells The Star. Two students were later charged in the incident, in which one student was alleged to have used a staff member’s login credentials to access the database.

John M. Beehler investiture

John Beehler during the his presidential investiture ceremony in April 2016. 

April 8, 2016 - In a public ceremony at Pete Mathews Coliseum, Beehler is formally recognized as JSU’s 12th president. “I pledge to give my heart and soul to Jacksonville State University,” tells the crowd. “I will not let you down.”

June 14, 2016 - Beehler announces in a letter to faculty that JSU’s academic structure would be reorganized from four colleges into six divisions to be called “schools.”

“I believe this new academic structure poises JSU for its very bright future and will enable excellent collaboration in developing new programs, securing grants, conducting research, enhancing regional stewardship and community engagement, growing enrollment, and serving students and preparing them for their future careers,” Beehler wrote.

July 18, 2016 - Trustees approve a 3 percent increase in student tuition and makes significant changes to fees requiring students to pay more to attend school. Both moves are part of a long-term trend in higher education, and JSU officials have long pointed to declining state financial support as the driver for increased costs for students. “We’re very cognizant of the challenge students have across the state with tuition,” Beehler says. “But we’ve kept the budget increase to a very nominal amount.”

John Beehler at economic development luncheon

JSU president John Beehler speaks during an economic development luncheon at Meehan Hall on campus in November 2016.

Nov. 15, 2016 - In a meeting at JSU’s stadium club, Beehler pitches an economic development partnership including JSU and leaders from across an 11-county region. “I really think if we work together we can accomplish a lot,” Beehlers tells the audience.

March 17, 2017 - JSU’s men’s basketball team plays for the first time in the NCAA basketball tournament, losing to Louisville. The appearance garners more new, nationwide attention for the campus and its athletics programs.

Sept. 13, 2017 - JSU announces a 5.6 percent rise in enrollment, the first time the student body has grown year-over-year in five years. “I knew when I was hired that enrollment was a primary issue on the minds of those on campus,” Beehler said. “It’s been one of my top priorities.”

Oct. 17, 2017 - Trustees grant Beehler a three-year extension on his employment contract and a 2 percent pay raise. Board chairman Ronnie Smith cited improvements in campus facilities and enrollment growth among Beehler’s accomplishments. “I think we’re very pleased in the way the last two years have gone since he’s been here,” Smith said of Beehler. “He’s represented the institution in such an excellent fashion.”

Beehler - students protest

Students protest at a meeting of the Jacksonville State University trustees' athletics committee, upset over the addition of Auburn transfer Landon Rice to the football team. 

Jan. 22, 2018 - About 20 JSU students at a trustees meeting protest the addition of Landon Rice to the football team. Rice had left Auburn after being found “responsible” in a campus investigation into a 2016 complaint of sexual assault. Rice had been accused of rape, but was not prosecuted; he came to JSU after a year at a junior college. “Both the board and I are satisfied that due diligence was followed to bring this student to campus,” Beehler said after the meeting.

March 19, 2018 - An EF-3 tornado rakes through the JSU campus and the city of Jacksonville. JSU is closed for spring break at the time, and there are no deaths and few injuries. Many campus buildings are damaged, including three that are eventually slated for demolition.

Beehler tornado 2

JSU president John Beehler addresses reporters at a news conference after an EF-3 tornado tore through the campus, leaving major damage in its wake.

“This campus has a soul, I knew it when I first came here,” Beehler says two days later in his remarks on returning to Jacksonville. “We will bounce back.”

The university remains closed until April 2, and a massive recovery operation begins.

April 17, 2018 - Trustees again raise tuition, this time by 5 percent. A 35-member committee including faculty and students had studied the university’s finances and recommended the increase, officials said. 

“Costs go up naturally,” Beehler says at the board’s meeting. “People need raises and the cost of new technology goes up.” Even with the increase, JSU was projected to operate in a $50,000 deficit in the next fiscal year. 

May 17, 2018 - Regional Medical Center’s directors decide to close the hospital’s Jacksonville campus and donate the property to JSU, after denying rumors that had swirled for weeks. The university announces it will use the hospital for housing and for JSU’s nursing school, whose building was rendered unusable by the March tornado. 

“We’re really thankful to RMC for their generosity,” Beehler said at a news conference. “We have an awful lot of needs.”

July 3, 2018 - In an email to faculty, Beehler announces a change in JSU’s top financial job; Jim Brigham is the university’s new vice president of administrative and business affairs, he writes. That post had been held by Ashok Roy, who had come to JSU in March 2016 and whose departure was not explained. University records show that Roy received his last regular salary payment the same month as Beehler’s announcement, though he received the same monthly amount for the rest of the fiscal year, coded as an “administrative supplement.”

Beehler - Giddy leaves

Jacksonville State University police Chief Shawn Giddy, right, cleans out his office after being informed he was no longer employed by the university. 

July 5, 2018 - The Star publishes the account of a Georgia woman and her mother, who say that a member of JSU’s men’s basketball team raped the daughter while she was on campus in July 2017 and that JSU officials — including Beehler — interceded to have an indictment on a rape charge against the athlete rescinded. In a written statement, the university said JSU officials “have not persuaded a criminal court or prosecutors to withdraw a felony charge against any JSU student.” 

JSU’s Title IX coordinator at the time of the incident, Jai Ingraham, had left the university soon afterward, The Star’s reporting revealed. JSU’s campus police chief, Shawn Giddy, and chief police investigator, Carl Preuninger, had been suspended since February after complaining that Beehler and university counsel Sam Monk had interfered in the case, according to their attorney. Giddy had been fired June 28; Preuninger returned to work July 2.

July 23, 2018 - Beehler and other JSU officials ask the Jacksonville City Council, on behalf of the board of trustees, to temporarily relax rental restrictions in some parts of town, so that students will have more housing options after the tornado. Some Jacksonville residents speak against the proposal.

“Give us a chance and help us recover,” Beehler asked the council.

The next month, JSU officials and students were at odds with residents in a City Council hearing on the request. The council ultimately declined to take the matter up.

Sept. 28, 2018 - Beehler and JSU officials dedicate the campus’ new baseball stadium, a $7.5 million project whose completion had long been delayed, first by winter weather, then by the March tornado.

Jan. 21, 2019 - JSU opens its new recreation and fitness center, a $39 million construction project which the university is paying for with a new $190 per semester fee charged to students.

Feb. 7, 2019 - JSU announces it has taken over management of a privately owned apartment complex, the Pointe at JSU. The apartments, then known as the Reserve, had housed more than 400 students before it was badly damaged in the March tornado.

“It was obvious that we had to find a way to rebuild the university and rebuild the apartment complexes,” Beehler said at a grand reopening event. “If we didn’t have the complexes back up the students wouldn’t have a place to stay.”

John Beehler- Merrill

JSU president John Beehler speaks at a ceremony before demolition began at tornado-damaged Merrill Hall in July 2019. 

July 29, 2019 - Crews begin demolishing Merrill Hall, the campus building most heavily damaged by the March 2018 tornado. The long-delayed work came after JSU agreed to pursue arbitration with its insurance carrier, the state Finance Department, to settle a dispute over the value of the damage. JSU had earlier in the year agreed to borrow $34 million to finance the project and other recovery work while it waited for the settlement.

“The site that reminds us all of the tornado and the disaster is going to go away,” Beehler said after a ceremony marking the start of demolition. “People drive around here and they see this, and it really brings back bad memories of the tornado.” 

Sept. 13, 2019 - JSU officials announce that 9,021 students have enrolled for the fall term, the largest figure since 2012. The increase was attributed in part to the school’s largest freshman class on record.

Sept. 14, 2019 - News breaks that law enforcement agencies are investigating a series of reported rapes on or near JSU’s campus since January. Eventually, 12 men are charged, 11 who are said to have committed second-degree rape against a victim between 12 and 16 years old; another man is charged with second-degree sodomy in connection with a second underage victim. An attorney for one of the men says the victim in his client’s case lied to the men about her age. In early October, the men’s cases were set to be sent to a grand jury for review.

Sept. 21, 2019 - Trustees in a special meeting began Beehler’s regular annual evaluation and approved a 90-day leave for the president to deal with what he later said were “close family members suffering from serious medical issues.” A three-person management team was tapped to administer the campus in his absence: Christie Shelton, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Jim Brigham, vice president for finance and administration; and Don Killingsworth, chief external affairs officer, with Killingsworth acting as chief operating officer.

Oct. 3, 2019 - The woman who alleged the 2017 rape by a basketball player sues the board of trustees, alleging in her federal court complaint that officials failed to prevent the assault and worked to protect the player from prosecution, violating her federal civil rights under Title IX, which bars sex-based discrimination in education. 

Oct. 22, 2019 - JSU’s trustees vote to provide Beehler 30 days notice of the termination of his employment without cause. Don Killingsworth, chief external affairs officer, is named acting president.