The Muse Presidency, Part 2: Beginnings


Part 8 of 10

Devising a plan for the merger of Hinds and Utica junior colleges

     Tracing its origins to the establishment of Utica Institute by William H. Holtzclaw in 1903, Utica Junior College first offered a college freshman curriculum in fall 1954.

     In 1972 Utica Junior College received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and by 1978 the institution enrolled more than 1,600 students in a comprehensive academic and vocational-technical curriculum.

     In 1975 Jake Ayers Sr. filed a lawsuit charging that Mississippi's historically black universities suffered from a tradition of neglect, inferior facilities and insufficient resources. Pursuant to the Ayers Case, federal courts eventually required each of the state's universities to devise plans to rectify past inequities.

     Although it did not originally deal with junior colleges, it came to the plaintiffs' attention that a peculiar situation existed in the case of historically white Hinds Junior College and Utica Junior College. Only about 20 miles separated the two Hinds County schools (although part of the Utica Campus is in Copiah County). They "shared" the same counties for students and support and they had essentially the same board of trustees. The Ayers plaintiffs successfully argued that this represented a "dual" system of education-one for whites and one for blacks-in violation of federal law.

     Unlike the universities, Hinds and Utica were tasked with devising a plan to merge. In doing so, the board of trustees, Muse and Utica's leaders showed remarkable ingenuity. A series of sensible compromises involving facilities, terminology, adminis­trative positions, athletics and other areas allowed the Hinds-Utica partnership to evolve relatively smoothly.

     In a plan approved by the federal courts in 1982, the area formerly served by Hinds Junior College and Utica Junior College became a unified Hinds Junior College District (HJCD). Facilities within the district were designated as either campuses or branches, with the former providing more comprehensive programs. Hinds Junior College became the Raymond Campus, HJCD, while Utica Junior College became the Utica Campus, HJCD.

     Hinds President Muse, as leader of by far the larger of the two institutions, became president of the new HJCD, with former Utica President Louis Stokes vice president of its Utica Campus. Utica business manager Adam Jenkins relocated to the Raymond Campus to become district vice president for business affairs.

     In athletics, both Hinds and Utica had proud traditions. In the new district arrangement, the Raymond Campus kept football and baseball, while Utica fielded the district's teams in basketball, track and tennis. Yet another sensitive issue was the school colors. Hinds' colors were maroon and white; Utica's were maroon and gold. When queried as to the district's official colors, Muse replied that "Hinds' colors are now maroon and white and gold."

     Muse concurrently launched a comprehensive program of development of physical facilities districtwide. Believing that "an attractive and sound physical plant creates an environment conducive for learning," Muse initiated a comprehensive landscaping and building plan for the Raymond Campus designed to take auto traffic out of the center of the campus while maintaining the campus' basic structure. Also, Raymond enhanced its agricultural programs with the construction of a large arena and classroom building on nearby Seven Springs Road.

     Further afield, both the Jackson and Vicksburg branches expanded and began offering academic courses at night, but bigger pressures loomed with the demand for a branch in Rankin County and the need for a comprehensive center for the rapidly growing nursing and allied health programs. Construction of the Rankin facility began in 1982, with the physical plant funded (as in the case of the Jackson and Vicksburg branches) entirely by the county involved.

     A more difficult decision lay in whether to expand the Raymond physical plant to accommodate the nursing-allied health program or build a new facility elsewhere. Although many nursing instructors wanted to remain part of the comprehensive Raymond Campus, Muse opted to accept an offer from Hinds General Hospital in Jackson to build a new center on nearby land donated by the hospital.

     Muse's third major priority was to bring unity to the faculty. Academic and vo-tech faculties, in fact, existed at arms' length with different policies, different salary schedules and different adminis­trative chains of command. Vo-tech was also subject to numerous federal regulations and state mandates from the Department of Education's Vocational Division not applicable to the academic faculty.

     Muse was determined to create a common set of policies and a unified salary schedule treating each employee equitably. With the help of outside consultants, and after several years of dealing with sensitive issues, both academic and vocational-technical divisions accepted a common set of policies. Muse considered this a major accomplishment in reestablishing a Hinds "family" of employees.

     With these three immediate problems resolved, the college turned to new challenges. These included establishment of a development foundation, a commitment to new educational technology and a renewed commitment to athletics.