Alcorn State building up business

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 2, 2002

NATCHEZ &045;&045; A chorus of hammers was celebratory music enough for the dozens of dignitaries gathered Tuesday under blazing July sun for the groundbreaking of Alcorn State University’s new business school.

Construction has begun on the $10-million facility under way next door to the Alcorn School of Nursing and across the boulevard from Copiah-Lincoln Community College Natchez campus. The contract, awarded to Benchmark Construction, calls for the job to be completed in 18 months.

&uot;It’s going to be an awesome building,&uot; said Dr. Steve Wells, director of the ASU business school, who commended the high quality of students and faculty in the five-year-old master of business administration program. &uot;They are the ones who will convert this facility into a positive impact on this community, the state, the country and the world.&uot;

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With the new building, business school programs will increase, Wells said. New undergraduate and graduate courses will be added to complement the MBA curriculum, and students will have options to specialize in finance, accounting and other business areas.

Dr. Rudolph Waters, executive vice president of Alcorn, said the expansion of the university’s Natchez campus represents a commitment the community must embrace.

&uot;Now we as a community must justify this facility,&uot; Waters said. &uot;Alcorn has made a commitment to Natchez; now Natchez must make a commitment to Alcorn.&uot;

The business building, designed by the Jackson architectural firm Dale & Associates, not only will provide new programs and opportunities but also will enhance the appearance of the Alcorn and Co-Lin campuses, said Dr. Ronnie Nettles, dean of the Co-Lin Natchez campus.

Looking across the boulevard to the grassy area where the new fine arts building will be built in the near future through an Alcorn-Co-Lin partnership, Nettles said the growth of the two campuses is an incalculable asset to Natchez.

&uot;The new programs and new buildings will mean a lot to Natchez in the future,&uot; Nettles said. &uot;This really demonstrates a commitment not only by Alcorn but also by Co-Lin.&uot;

State Sen. Bob Dearing reminisced about how far higher education had come in Natchez since the years when the University of Southern Mississippi was housed at the old Naval Reserve building in Duncan Park and Co-Lin was at the old school building in Washington.

&uot;They bounced around from place to place,&uot; he said, recalling the push in the 1970s to purchase the 165 acres of land where Co-Lin and the Alcorn Nursing School now are located.

&uot;And now a young person &045;&045; a person of any age, really &045;&045; can start a college education at Co-Lin and finish at Alcorn,&uot; Dearing said.

Dr. Ben Kraft, who heads the Alcorn State University Foundation, said the new buildings and programs in Natchez have impact on his work in raising funds for the university.

&uot;It’s important in my office to get the word out that Alcorn State University intends to be a part of this community and we seek support from the community,&uot; Kraft said. &uot;This also will give us a larger alumni base and a more diverse alumni base.&uot;

Waters said diversity of the student body is one of the charges given the traditionally black universities under the settlement of the Ayers lawsuit. The Natchez programs already are key to carrying out that task.

That lawsuit against the state was

brought in 1975 by the late Jake Ayers of Glen Allan on behalf of his son and 20 other blacks. Three months later, the U.S. Justice Department intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs and a plaintiff class was certified, defined briefly as all black citizens residing in Mississippi.

The Ayers suit challenged the state’s higher education policies, charging that Mississippi had failed to correct disparities between traditionally white and traditionally black colleges and universities, including facilities, academic programs and student enrollments

Efforts to reach an agreement failed in the ensuing years. After many court battles, an agreement hammered out last year ended with a settlement to enhance programs at the traditionally black universities and to balance racial representation at other state universities.

Among the settlement numbers:

4$246 million in funding over a 17-year period for academic programs at the three black universities, Alcorn, Mississippi Valley State University and Jackson State University.

4$75 million in funding over a five-year period for capital improvements at the three universities.

4$70 million in public endowments created over a 14-year period and $35 million in private endowments raised in a seven-year period, with only the interest to be used to create new academic programs and to increase other-race enrollment at the three universities.