Benjamin Russell graduate Dr. Don C. Killingsworth Jr. has officially been named president of Jacksonville State University.
Killingsworth is a two-time JSU graduate and has served as acting president of JSU since Oct. 22, 2019. Killingsworth assumed the position after the JSU board released former president Dr. John M. Beehler from his contract.
David McGhee is an Alexander City native and JSU alum just like Killingsworth. McGhee believes Killingsworth is the right person at the right time for JSU.
“He’s what JSU needs as it moves forward,” McGhee said. “He is a really good guy and southern gentleman. He’s a JSU man.”
According to JSU board members, Killingsworth’s
success, leadership and activism over the last seven months has proven he is more than capable to formally lead the more than 9,000 student-enrolled university into the future.
“With every challenge that presented itself during his tenure as acting president, Don rose to the occasion, many times being three steps ahead in how to approach each matter,” JSU board chair Randy Jones said in a release. “His caliber, overall expertise and what he’s accomplished since October have since far surpassed our expectations.”
A release from JSU stated the institution expects Killingsworth will continue to strengthen relationships with key state leaders while developing successful fundraising opportunities to benefit the university’s growth. He will also work to ensure alumni, in addition to current and potential students, find the utmost value in their degrees and are provided opportunities in today’s evolving workplace.
“As JSU’s president, I am more than ever committed to advancing us toward the future by relying on a competent and strong leadership team in all critical areas, restoring relationships with various stakeholders, operating in a conservative and fiscally responsible manner, fundraising to assist the university in its mission, increasing enrollment to the populations that we serve, and exhibiting a ‘student first’ attitude,” Killingsworth said in a statement. “Together, we will move JSU forward.”
Trustees and campus leadership lauded Killingsworth as the most prepared and qualified person when compared to potential external options.
“We have watched Don throughout his tenure as acting president, from his actions during COVID-19 to how he fosters relationships with state and local leaders,” JSU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. Christie Shelton said in a statement. “When we looked at the potential of searching externally for candidates, we knew no matter the resume, we would only be comparing him or her to the person currently leading our university. We would have come back to the conclusion that he was the right fit, no matter whom we vetted him against.”
Killingsworth’s leadership has been both tested and proven, most recently with his management of the institution’s financial strain due to the coronavirus. He enacted a hiring freeze while allowing for faculty positions to be filled, ensuring continuity of academic delivery in those areas of faculty shortages. With this effort, JSU has seen more than $1.5 million in salary savings.
While currently developing a Finance and Administration campus master plan to present to the JSU Board of Trustees. The plan will allow planning for proper and adequate capital outlay requests and will improve the ability to outline future institutional growth. Killingsworth has also provided detailed short- and long-term goals for academic affairs, student success, student affairs, athletics, advancement, enrollment management and information technology.
“Don has ultimately been on a job interview for seven months, and while we initially thought we would open a search beyond our current staff, his professionalism, experience, knowledge, levelheadedness and leadership have shown that what JSU needed was already in place,” Jones said. “Our decision to make this official and with no delay reflects our utmost confidence in him. With a new school year fast approaching and a pandemic still in full force, we needed a permanent leader to carefully steer us through these uncharted waters.”
JSU’s Board of Trustees is set to ratify Killingsworth’s contract in July and will integrate both incentives and success goals.
“We feel it is appropriate to provide the leader of our students and campus with an enhanced drive for success,” Jones said. “And with a great cabinet in place and a fantastic provost, Don has all of the tools necessary to take Jacksonville State into a new, highly successful era.”
Killingsworth has dedicated his entire career to JSU. Upon graduating from the university with a bachelor’s degree in geography in 1999 and a master’s degree in counseling in 2001, the former Student Government Association president worked for more than a year as a consultant for American College Testing Inc., the provider of the ACT college entrance exam. He returned to his alma mater in 2002 to support student success as coordinator of Academic Advisement. Soon after, he was named director of Government Relations by former president and mentor Dr. William Meehan. He was later promoted to chief government relations and community engagement officer.
Killingsworth received his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Alabama in 2016. In addition to his new role as president, he will continue to serve in a leadership role for the Higher Education Partnership as chairperson for the Council of University Governmental Affairs Representatives, a group comprised of lobbyists from Alabama’s 14 public universities.
– Staff writer Cliff Williams contributed to this report.