WILBERFORCE — At his introductory press conference, Central State University President Dr. Jack Thomas said beginning a multi-million dollar fund-raising campaign was a major goal.
On Wednesday, Thomas literally put his money where his mouth was. The ninth president in CSU history, Thomas pledged $50,000 of his salary toward the creation of a new Presidential Scholarship Fund. In a video released on the school’s website, Thomas said he was motivated to make the gift to show solidarity with university employees financially affected by COVID-19.
“Though it was difficult for the university to institute furloughs and wage reductions, these were prudent decisions to ensure that Central State remains on sound financial footing,” he said. “I would not ask others to endure sacrifices that I’m not willing to endure myself. So today I’m pledging $50,000 from my salary to create a Presidential Scholarship Fund for our students.”
Thomas added that he will seek a matching gift to bring other contributors to the fund “so that Central State University’s greatest resource — our students — are given every advantage to get the quality Marauder education that only Central State University can provide.”
Donating 20 percent of his salary wasn’t the first bold move Thomas made since being named the successor to Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, who retired after eight years at CSU. Before officially taking over July 1, Thomas huddled with Board of Trustees Chairman Mark Hatcher and Jackson-Hammond to ensure a smooth transition. He created a blue ribbon task force to evaluate all aspects of CSU to help the leadership team. Nearly a month ago, he penned an op-ed supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and calling on community leaders to work with him to make sure the nation is safe for everyone.
“You need to get ready,” Thomas said recently in his first comprehensive interview with the Gazette. “We are on social media. We are in the media. We are going to be making news and that news is going to be good news.”
Two weeks officially on the job, Thomas is thinking long term without losing sight of what needs to be immediately accomplished.
“The most important thing right now is to prepare our campus for a return for the fall,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure that we are creating a safe and secure work environment for our faculty, staff, and students.”
Thomas spelled out a nine-point plan that he hopes will define his tenure and it’s likely no surprise that most are centered around the students.
“Our goal is to make sure that we’re providing the best education possible,” he said.
Thomas said he wants CSU to greatly improve retention and graduation rates by taking the time to implement “innovative techniques like a robust early alert system to truly understand where our students are falling short before it’s too late.”
In addition, Thomas wants to develop an honors college that will attract some of the best and brightest students to help enhance the CSU’s overall academic profile. And Thomas wants to increase enrollment. Currently, fall enrollment is 1,626. The goal is to reach 2,000, which has been the general target for the last few years.
“We want to grow and not to just stand still,” Thomas said.
The aforementioned fund-raising campaign will support scholarships, faculty development, academic programs, instructional equipment, and facilities.
The school will also continue to focus on its 1890 Land Grant mission.
“I think the sky is the limit to what we can go and grow in terms of the land grant status,” Thomas said. “We want to continue to do the extension in reaching out and working with the community, the farmers. We are a great resource for the local farmers, and not just the local farmers, but all farmers.”
CSU’s water resource program is one of the university’s signature programs and Thomas said he wants to continue building that wile also looking at other unique programs that will help CSU be in line with the land grant mission.
Thomas also touched on a couple other CSU-related topics.
The city of Xenia recently won a Supreme Court case granting the city the right to annex around 45 acres of land in Xenia Township, connecting the city to Central State’e campus. CSU officials have asked the city to annex the entire campus, something many Wilberforce residents and some CSU employees reportedly oppose.
“Everything that I’ve heard and read, I see that there’s nothing really to fear from this annexation,” Thomas said. “This will be very beneficial to our faculty, our staff, and students and we’ll see some more development of services locally and it will help in terms of the growth of the campus and the university community.”
Thomas said that annexation will help create business development opportunities and help provide students with internships and job opportunities.
“I just see a win-win and particularly since it will save the university about $400,000 a year,” he said.
One argument against annexation is that CSU staff and contract employees would have to pay income tax to Xenia. Thomas said around 50 percent already pay an income tax to either Xenia or wherever they live.
“I don’t see why I should be against (annexation),” Thomas said.
During a time when many major and smaller universities are cutting non-revenue sports to save money, Thomas said none of CSU’s athletic programs are in jeopardy, even though it cancelled the fall sports season as all Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference members did. CSU offers five men’s and four women’s sports.
“We feel that they are valuable to our university,” he said. “And right now we have no plans to cut sports. But as we move forward we will continue to evaluate athletics as we’re doing with everything here at the university.”
And everything being done at the university is to make it a winner in the region, state, nationally, and internationally. Thomas said that will happen.
“We have the faculty and the staff, the students and the alumni, he said. “We are poised for greatness as a university.”