Bristow ready to make southwest Mississippi ‘Alcorn territory’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2000

LORMAN – Five years ago, Dr. Clinton Bristow was wrapping up his term as president of the Chicago Board of Education — overseeing 400,000 students, 40,00 employees and a $26 billion budget.

But when he had the chance to come to Alcorn State University — a school of about 3,000 students in tiny Lorman — Bristow saw an entirely different opportunity.

&uot;Here, I saw an opportunity to really be involved in developing one quarter of the state,&uot; said Bristow, whose educational and professional background is in business management and educational administration.

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As he shows off a colorful map of development plans for the campus — with everything from a bike path to a biotechnology incubator — Bristow shows how much he is interested in changing the face of &uot;Alcorn territory.&uot;

&uot;Alcorn territory,&uot; as Bristow calls it, is the southwest quadrant of Mississippi, from the Mississippi River on the west to Interstate 55 on the east, and from Interstate 20 on the north to the Louisiana state line on the south. &uot;There is a certain culture at Alcorn that supports our protection of that territory,&uot; Bristow said, noting Alcorn promotes educational excellence, a strong sense of work ethic and a high quality of life.

While he has his eye on expanding the campuses in both Lorman and Natchez, Bristow also has a hands-on approach to his administration in Lorman.

From his office on the sixth floor of the administration building, Bristow has a bird’s-eye view of the campus from two walls with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Bristow joked he sometimes teases students about what he’s seen from those windows. But knowing those students is one of the advantages to the campus, he said.

&uot;That’s one of the selling points for Alcorn State University,&uot; Bristow said. &uot;The university is small to medium in size. You get a chance to meet faculty, students. It really creates an environment of our own.

&uot;We want all roads in southwest Mississippi to lead to Alcorn,&uot; he said.

That means making Alcorn &uot;the&uot; university for people in this part of the state, in the same way that residents around Oxford have taken ownership in the University of Mississippi and residents near Starkville have appropriated Mississippi State.

But Bristow may be fighting a bit more of an uphill battle for that kind of regional ownership. As an historically black school, Alcorn — at least according to a lawsuit whose settlement is still pending — has been hindered over the years by less fair funding than other state schools. The Ayers case, filed 25 years ago by a man who believed his son was not getting an equal education because he attended a public, historically black school, has resulted in more funding for the state’s three historically black schools.

That money has, in part, helped build the MBA program at the school’s Natchez campus. Now, Bristow wants to use more money — already appropriated by the state Legislature — to help attract more white students to the school and to build more academic programs.

But a federal judge has frozen that $1.8 million until Alcorn presents him with a more detailed outline of those plans. Bristow, however, said he is trying not to be frustrated by the setback.

&uot;I think a person in a leadership position can’t get frustrated,&uot; Bristow said, adding he wants to turn the situation &uot;into a positive.&uot;

One of the positives of this situation, Bristow said, is that since Alcorn’s $1.8 million was frozen, the school has gotten more attention than it has had in the past five years.

And Bristow is staying positive that Judge Neal Biggers will give Alcorn the chance to spend the money on programs and recruiting.

&uot;I feel very good about it,&uot; he said. &uot;Hopefully it will lead to more than $1.8 million.&uot;

The map of campus plans shows what the university could do with more money, from recreational activities such as fine arts facilities to economic development such as business incubators.

But the $1.8 million is designated to increase enrollment — especially among non-black students — and to improve academic program offerings.

Bristow said he hopes the university’s plans to increase enrollment will encourage growth not only for the campus but also for the entire area.

&uot;In our part of the state, we want Alcorn to be the university of choice,&uot; Bristow said.