In Conversation With Dr. Jack Thomas, The New President Of Central State University
Dr. Jack Thomas is the new president of Central State University. He takes office in the middle of a pandemic that is having a negative impact on both the bottom line and morale at universities across the country. But he tells WYSO’s Jason Reynolds that those problems come with some great opportunities as the campus prepares to reopen.
DR. THOMAS: We’re going to bring individuals back face to face as well as online. As a university, it’s helped to pivot us to where we need to be at anyway in terms of online classes. So, it will be different, but at the same time, we have to keep our focus on the mission of this university, and that is to provide a quality and well-rounded education for our students.
J. REYNOLDS: So, Central State is a Land Grant Institute. Can you tell us what that means and maybe a little bit of the history?
DR. THOMAS: Well, Central State University is the only 1890 Land Grant Institution in the State of Ohio. It’s the only public historically Black university in the State of Ohio. The history of the 1890 Land Grant Institutions is to provide an education, particularly for minorities because minorities were not given the same kinds of opportunities. If it had not been for the 1890s and historically Black institutions, education would only be for the rich and famous.
REYNOLDS: So what, personally, made you decide to accept this offer? What excites you about Central State, and what do you look forward to building at the university?
DR. THOMAS: Well, I was a first generation college student myself, and many of the students that we serve are first generation college students that come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, as I did. And if it had not been for a Central State University or an Alabama A&M or a Virginia State, which are also 1890s, I wouldn’t be here as president today. So, when you leave an HBCU or an 1890 Land Grant Institution, you should be able to go out and function and do well in society, as I have done and as many of my predecessors have done. We are just excited about our mission. It’s a good university, and as a seasoned leader, I want to help make it a great university.
REYNOLDS: So, how do you make it a great university? I know the college experience is more than textbooks and grades. Students want to go out and make a difference in the real world. So, as the head of an HBCU, at this time, how do you think Central is preparing students to thrive?
DR. THOMAS: Let me say first, it has to do with the strategic plan. We will do marketing. We want to increase our enrollment. We want to create an honors college. We want to bring in the best and brightest students while also maintaining our mission and doing targeted enrollment. We want to improve our retention and graduation rates. They're not where we want them to be. And then, as an 1890s Land Grant Mission, we want to look at the academic programs that we feel will be cutting edge. We already have some unique programs, like water research management, engineering, and the list goes on, agriculture, food science, and those kinds of things.
REYNOLDS: What did we miss? What should WYSO have asked the Ninth President of Central State University?
DR. THOMAS: I’ll just tell you that you will be hearing about Central State University as a top leading institute that focuses on teaching, research and service. And we are going to produce the best and brightest students that are coming from Central State University and who will make an indelible mark on society as they enter into their careers.