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‘An obvious desire:’ IHL names internal candidate new president of Alcorn State, citing campus support

The governing board of Mississippi’s public universities gave Alcorn State University’s interim president the full appointment on Thursday, forgoing a national search and marking the ninth time in 10 years the board has hired an internal candidate as a top leader.

In a press release, the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees cited the campus support for Tracy Cook that was shared during listening sessions earlier this year as a reason for his appointment. The board did not hire a search firm, IHL confirmed to Mississippi Today.

Cook had been the university’s interim president since June 2023, and his full appointment will be effective April 1, according to IHL’s press release. He steps into the role at a time when some on Alcorn State’s campus feel the country’s oldest public historical Black land-grant institution has strayed from its heyday.

“There was an obvious desire and call from the Alcorn family for Dr. Cook to be named to this role, and we are putting our full faith and confidence behind this decision,” Dr. Alfred McNair, the trustee who is serving as board president, said in a press release. “He is the right person to lead Alcorn State University.”

IHL could not say what Cook’s salary will be, but his salary as interim president was set at $300,000 last year.

An Alcorn State alumnus, Cook spent most of his career in K-12 education, working in various administrative levels in Jefferson and Claiborne county schools. He came to Alcorn State in 2015 to be the chief of staff when Alfred Rankins, the current IHL commissioner, was serving as the university’s president, Mississippi Today previously reported.

Rankins’ applauded the board’s decision.

“At this juncture in Alcorn’s history, Dr. Cook is the right choice to lead the university to greater prominence,” Rankins said in a press release. “I understand and appreciate the work that lies ahead for him. Alcorn State University is fortunate to have him at the helm.”

After working for Rankins, Cook was promoted to vice president for student affairs in 2019. He also oversaw enrollment management. From fall 2019 to fall 2023, total enrollment at Alcorn State has fallen from 3,523 to 2,894, according to IHL and federal data. 

“I am honored to have the trust and support of the Board of Trustees, and excited to officially lead a university that has meant so much to me personally and professionally,” Cook said in a press release. “We have a bright future ahead of us and I am committed to leading us all toward new levels of success.”

READ MORE: ‘A friend in a high place’: Alcorn State interim president could be latest internal hire by IHL 

IHL is constitutionally empowered to hire the university presidents, and board policies give the 12 trustees immense flexibility in making that decision. In 2022, IHL suspended its search to hire Joe Paul, then the interim president at the University of Southern Mississippi, after he received support during the listening sessions. 

And just last year, the board named its deputy commissioner, Marcus Thompson, as president of Jackson State University despite conducting a full-fledged national search.

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