The Muse Presidency, Part 1: Beginning


Part 7 of 10

Beginning of the Muse Presidency

     In August 2006, Dr. Vernon Clyde Muse presided over Hinds' fall convocation for the 28th consecutive year, surpassing the 27-year tenure of former President George McLendon. At that point he had led the college through a period of phenomenal growth and fundamental change in its role in the broader community.

     Muse continues to guide the institution, now a multi-campus community college, in its activities as a model of academic excellence, a career and technical training showcase, a continuing education leader, an engine of economic development and a center of public activities.

     Born in rural Benton County in north Mississippi, Muse attended public schools at Hickory Flat, Locke Station and Crowder before graduating from Sebastopol High School in Scott County. In 1947 he enrolled at East Central Junior College in Decatur, earning tuition, room and board by milking cows at 4 o'clock every morning before mercifully getting a promotion to dishwasher in the school cafeteria - until he earned a basketball scholarship.

     As a freshman he played in the first football game he ever saw, but it was on the basketball court that he excelled. Athletically and academically, Muse found the nurturing environment at East Central to be transforming. Teachers were dedicated and willing to work individually with students who needed help. Muse, nearly 50 years later, stated unequivocally that he would never have carved out a successful career in education without his junior college experience.

     In 1950, Muse matriculated at Delta State Teachers' College where he received a basketball scholarship. While serving as student body vice president as a senior, he met Vashti Underwood, a pretty freshman from Leland and, after a whirlwind courtship, they married in summer 1952, shortly after his graduation.

     Muse's first position as an educator was at Canton High School where he taught science and coached basketball, track and junior high football. In 1957 the Muses relocated to Starkville High School where he again taught and coached. Muse also began taking graduate courses from nearby Mississippi State University, earning a master's degree in school administration in 1959. Although subsequently promoted to high school principal, he continued to coach basketball, winning a boys' state championship in 1961. In 1967 he became assistant superintendent of the Starkville school system, and in 1969 he completed requirements for a doctoral degree in administration from Mississippi State.

     In 1969 Muse became superintendent of the Hinds County school system, the second largest in the state. As such he served as secretary of the Hinds Junior College Board of Trustees. Shortly after Muse assumed the superintendent's position, the U.S. Department of Justice placed the Hinds County schools under a desegregation plan to be implemented starting in January 1970. For nearly two years, Muse struggled to implement the plan, an experience that provided a hard training ground for dealing with sensitive racial issues. The experience also reinforced the central tenets of his educational philosophy. These centered on the belief that, despite differences in race, income and experiences, all parents want essentially the same things for their children: a safe and comfortable environment for learning, good teachers and fair and equal treatment. With this philosophy in hand, Muse later opined that "Maybe the Lord put me here to provide guidance through desegregation."

After a stressful two years in Hinds County, Muse accepted a position as superintendent of the Meridian school system in 1971.

     After seven happy years in Meridian, Muse was, to his surprise, approached by a member of the Hinds Junior College board in 1978 and asked to apply for the Hinds presidency. (Hinds President Mayo was retiring.) Muse at first declined, but had very fond memories of his years as a student at East Central and as a Hinds board member. He finally made the difficult decision to interview, was offered the job and accepted. On July 1, 1978, Vernon Clyde Muse succeeded Robert Murrah Mayo as the sixth president of Hinds Junior College.

Muse hit the ground running, concentrating on three issues that he considered paramount:

• Once again, desegregation was a priority. Only 16 miles separated Hinds from historically black Utica Junior College. Federal courts tasked the two institutions with devising a plan for unification.

• Muse felt that major improvements were needed for the physical plants at the Raymond Campus and the Vicksburg and Jackson branches and wanted the branches to increase their academic offerings. Future projects were to be an allied health center and a major campus in Rankin County.

• Serious differences separated the academic and vocational/technical functions of the college. Different policies, administrations and salary schedules kept the two at arm's length ... he wanted to create a unified college with one set of policies and a common salary schedule for all employees.