Gimme a sign

Students are shown outside Bibb Graves Hall at Jacksonville State University Monday with a sign in the foreground listing the institution's presidents.

Jacksonville State University President John Beehler began his 90-day leave from JSU on Tuesday, and a three-person “management team” was set to take over leadership of the university.

Beehler was granted the leave to attend to family members who have medical issues, according to his email sent last week to the university.  

JSU Provost Christie Shelton, a member of the management team along with Vice President for Finance and Administration Jim Brigham and Chief External Affairs Officer Don Killingsworth, wrote in an email Tuesday that the university will continue its normal operations in Beehler’s absence.

“We will continue business as usual with the management team in place assessing needs regularly and participating in discussions to continue to move the university forward,” Shelton wrote.

Merrill Schwartz, who oversees content strategy for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said a three-pronged management team like the one JSU has cited is less common than a university simply appointing an individual to serve as acting president.

“It seems like the board has figured out what the best leadership is for the university to take the lead during this absence, and that’s important,” Schwartz said. “You need to have people that know the university well.”

Beehler’s leave comes at a time when JSU is undergoing a search for two new deans and awaiting arbitration on a dispute for an insurance settlement on tornado-damaged Merrill Hall.

The university is currently searching for a new dean of the School of Health Professions and Wellness and dean of the School of Business and Industry. Shelton served as the former prior to her elevation to provost, and Bill Fielding will continue to serve in his role as deanuntil his successor is hired.

“For the dean searches, those are underway this week, and the candidates are sensitive to the needs of the president to manage his situation with his family,” Shelton wrote. “We will have ten candidates visit the campus this week, five for the School of Business and Industry and five for the School of Health Professions and Wellness.”

After Merrill Hall, JSU’s business building, was heavily damaged by the EF-3 tornado that swept through JSU’s campus and the city of Jacksonville on March 19, 2018, the university has been at odds with state insurers over a payout for the building.

A plan to pursue arbitration in the case was revealed at a meetingof the board in June, while demolition on Merrill Hallbegan in July.Since the damage, JSU’s business programs have operated in the former campus of Kitty Stone Elementary, which is owned by JSU. Trusteesapproved plans for a new business building, to be built on the site of Merrill Hall, in July.

Schwartz said that the absence of a university's president, who would normally be involved in these processes, should not affect its ability to progress on those issues. 

“As long as the appropriate designation of power is made, it shouldn’t affect any of these decisions being made,” Schwartz said. “That’s the whole point of appointing leadership in an absence.”

“The president of a university is the leader of a very complex organization,” Schwartz said. “It’s important to provide continuity in the leadership of the institution.”




Contact Staff Writer Daniel Mayes at 256-235-3561 or On Twitter @DMayes_Star.