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Jackson, Edison O.

Edison O. Jackson

1943(?)—

College president

Dr. Edison O. Jackson is one of the best-known university administrators in the country. As president of Medgar Evers College, part of the City University of New York system, he has worked to raise admissions standards, expand research programs, and bring more than two hundred million dollars' worth of new construction to his Brooklyn campus. He is also highly regarded for his work in the wider community, notably for his leadership, with Rabbi Shea Hecht, of the Crown Heights Coalition, an organization formed in 1991 to defuse racial tensions in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood.

A native of rural Heathsville, Virginia, Jackson attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1965 and a master's degree in counseling three years later. While completing the requirements for his master's degree, Jackson worked as a counselor and instructor at Washington's Federal City College, now part of the University of the District of Columbia. In 1969, with his degree in hand, he moved to New Jersey, where he became dean of student affairs at Essex County College. While at Essex, Jackson began writing for professional journals, often on the subject of educational opportunities for minorities. Promoted several times, Jackson was serving as the school's chief academic officer by September of 1983. Two years later he moved to California to become president of Compton Community College, a troubled school in a struggling, largely minority neighborhood within the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The budget and enrollment challenges Jackson faced there were valuable experience for his 1989 move to become president of Medgar Evers College (MEC) in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. It is over the course of his long tenure at Medgar Evers that Jackson has established his reputation as an innovative problem solver.

Named for slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, the college opened in 1971 to provide educational opportunities for the residents of Brooklyn, particularly for the largely African-American neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. Though MEC has always been part of the City University of New York system, its status within that system has varied widely. Originally a four-year college, it was downgraded to a two-year community college in 1976. Upon his arrival in 1989, Jackson immediately began efforts to secure the state funding necessary for a shift back to four-year status. When, after intense lobbying, the state of New York approved the status change in 1994, students and residents alike savored the victory, with New York Senator Marty Markowitz telling Craig Wolff in the New York Times, "It's a matter of restoring respect, recognizing the quality of an institution and making good on a wrong."

Jackson had also demonstrated his ability to overcome longstanding disputes in 1991 in the aftermath of the so-called Crown Heights riots. While Crown Heights is overwhelmingly African American, it is also the headquarters of the predominately white Lubavitcher movement, a branch of Orthodox Judaism. Lubavitchers, as the movement's followers are known, generally prefer to separate themselves from their non-Jewish neighbors, relying as much as possible on their own schools, businesses, and social services. In crowded neighborhoods like Crown Heights, however, "living apart" can create tensions, with misunderstandings on both sides. In August of 1991 those misunderstandings flared into violence. After a car accident in which a Jewish driver hit two black children, killing one, riots erupted in which one Jewish man lost his life. Before the violence ended three days later, much of the neighborhood lay in ruins, and both sides felt angry and abused. Something had to be done to restore peace between the two communities, or another outbreak of violence was almost inevitable. It was as this point that Jackson and Shea Hecht, a Lubavitcher rabbi, launched the Crown Heights Coalition. Jackson did not hesitate to accept the position, seeing the role as a natural fit for the president of a college located only a few blocks away. As he later told Goldie Blumenstyk in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "The college has a responsibility to take on a leadership role. We must be a voice of reason…. People perceive us as being one of the neutral places." The aim of the Coalition was not to assign blame but to explore the many grievances shared by the two communities and to use those shared grievances as a basis for tolerance and understanding. Jackson and Hecht discovered, for example, that both groups felt poorly served by the police. "In an environment where self-styled community activists have seemed to delight in arousing anger," Blumenstyk wrote, "Rabbi Hecht says he appreciates Mr. Jackson's ‘goal oriented’ agenda." Jackson's work with the Coalition brought him a number of awards, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute for Children in 1995.

At a Glance …

Born in 1943(?) in Heathsville, Virginia; married; wife's name, Florence E. Jackson; two children. Religion: Ordained minister; member of Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church. Education: Howard University, BS, zoology, 1965, MA, counseling, 1968; Rutgers University, PhD, education, 1983.

Career: Federal City College, counselor and instructor, 1965-69; Essex County College, variety of positions including dean of student affairs, vice president of student affairs, and chief academic officer, 1969-85; Compton Community College, president, 1985-89; Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, president, 1989—.

Selected memberships: Association of State Colleges and Universities of the State of New York, past vice-president; American Council on Education, past director; New York City Board of Education, past member; Prospect Park Alliance, board member; Crown Heights Coalition, cochair.

Selected awards: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute for Children, 1995; Educational Leadership Award, National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, 1999; Education Award, Church Women United of Brooklyn, 2000.

Addresses: Office—c/o Office of the President, Medgar Evers College, City University of New York, 1650 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11225. Web—http://www.mec.cuny.edu/presidents_office/pres_welcome.asp.

Jackson's career has not been without occasional controversy. In 2006, for example, a group called the New York Civil Rights Coalition (NYCRC) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. At issue was MEC's Male Development and Empowerment Center, a resource center Jackson opened in 2004 to help male students stay enrolled. Because more than 90 percent of MEC's student body is black and nearly 80 percent female, MEC is "a federally funded institution that excludes women students and discriminates in favor of black men and black men only," NYCRC's executive director was quoted as saying by Karen W. Arenson in the New York Times. Jackson vehemently disputed the charge, and was quoted by Arenson as saying, "We don't discriminate on the basis of race," and noting that a women's center had been open on campus for two decades. Nearly two years after the complaint was filed, the resource center remained open, and the controversy seemed largely past. Meanwhile, the campus of Medgar Evers College was enjoying more than two hundred million dollars' worth of new facilities and, with Dr. Edison O. Jackson at the helm, had become one of the brightest spots in central Brooklyn.

Selected writings

(With Robert L. McMillan) Study of Attrition: Non-Returning Students for 1975-76, Essex County College, 1976.

"The Community and Minority Students," in Morgan Odell and Jeri J. Mock, eds., A Crucial Agenda: Making Colleges and Universities Work Better for Minority Students, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 1989.

(With J. A. George Irish) Medgar Evers College: In Relentless Pursuit of Excellence, Medgar Evers College, 1992.

Sources

Periodicals

Chronicle of Higher Education, December 18, 1991, p.A5.

Newsday (New York), December 28, 1992.

New Voice of New York, January 3, 2002, p.10.

New York Times, June 19, 1994; April 19, 2006; July 28, 2007.

Online

"Dr. Edison O. Jackson, President," Medgar Evers College,http://www.mec.cuny.edu/presidents_office/pres_bio.asp (accessed February 27, 2008).

"History of the College," Medgar Evers College,http://www.mec.cuny.edu/presidents_office/mec_history/mec_history.asp (accessed February 27, 2008).

—R. Anthony Kugler

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