Students at Jackson State University were reeling from shock over the news that their now-former president had not only been arrested in a prostitution sting but also that he had resigned over it. Dr. William Bynum Jr. was quickly replaced by an interim president after he stepped down on Monday, paving the way for a fresh start at the HBCU in Mississippi.
But what appeared to be a run of the mill police sting investigating prostitution was greeted by some doubt on social media with posts suggesting that Bynum may have been set up since it was unclear how the police were alerted to the prostitution ring.
And while there’s no proof to confirm those suspicions, a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the 57-year-old’s tenure at Jackson State president prompted some other questions as local police were continuing to investigate what appeared to be the second prostitution ring involving an HBCU in as many years.
On campus at Jackson State, students were reportedly incredulous after learning of the news.
“Students are very upset about the situation,” Jackson State’s Student Government President Jordan Jefferson told local news outlet WAPT. “We love Dr. Bynum. He was a great personable person. Very outgoing and was a great person overall, so everybody’s sad about the situation.”
One group that has been relatively silent about the arrests of Bynum and 16 other people in the prostitution sting has been Jackson State alumni. However, when Bynum was being considered and ultimately was selected by the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) to lead their alma mater, some graduates were not happy, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
The now-former Jackson State University National Alumni president expressed her reservations about Bynum at the time.
“It should be noted that Bynum was among candidates that did not receive a favorable review and was not invited to advance in the search process,” Yolanda Owens wrote in an open letter in 2017. “In fact, the JSU (Interview Search Advisory) Committee unanimously expressed serious concerns about his candidacy. At the conclusion of the first-round interviews and following deliberation with the board about the candidates, we were assured Bynum was no longer under consideration.”
That characterization stood in stark contrast to the one drawn by Bynum about his relationship with Owens at the time he was hired.
“She was the first person to greet me and my wife,” Bynum told the Mississippi Link in 2017 about Owens. “We’re all working for the betterment of Jackson State University. I’ve visited several alumni chapters, and she’s joined me on a few of those visits.”
The Clarion-Ledger also reported that at the time, “A group of black lawmakers filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court to try to block IHL from naming Bynum.”
(Perhaps unrelated, Bynum had the same greeting from alumni before he was hired at Mississippi Valley State University, another HBCU where he served as president for four years before being hired by Jackson State.)
Bynum was also earning far higher of his salary than his Jackson State predecessor, bringing home $375,000 annually compared to the previous compensation of just over $220,000 a year. That salary was granted as Jackson State “was in the middle of financial crisis,” the Clarion-Ledger reported.
Notwithstanding, there was also the concern of Bynum’s job performance. Under his leadership in fewer than three years, enrollment at Jackson State fell by more than 2,000 students, a trend that didn’t help with the school’s finances. “During 2017 and 2018, JSU faced significantly steeper declines in student enrollment than other public universities in Mississippi,” the Clarion-Ledger reported. “By 2018, JSU had its smallest enrollment since 2003,” the news outlet added.
Eddie Payton, an alumnus and the brother of fellow Jackson State graduate and former NFL legend Walter Payton, underscored Bynum’s lack of results as president.
I would scratch my head over what he’s been able to accomplish at this point,” Payton told the Clarion-Ledger. “… I have not seen it.”
There was no immediate proof of a setup, and it’s completely plausible that Bynum was not set up at all. But it would seem that more people wanted Bynum out of Jackson State than they wanted him to run it. A prostitution arrest of a married father of six — coupled with charges of giving a false statement of identity and possession of marijuana — is tough fr anyone to rebound from, especially someone in academia.
The prostitution scandal in Mississippi came about a year and a half after Fort Valley State University, another HBCU, was at the center of a prostitution ring of its own on its campus in rural Georgia. Among those who warrants were issued for include the former executive assistant to the president of Fort Valley State, from where officials said sex for men was arranged in exchange for cash. Months earlier, the school’s Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority adviser was accused of “pimping out” pledges to help pay for pledges’ membership fees. Alecia Jeanetta Johnson, who allegedly operated as the madame of the prostitution ring and was facing six counts of pimping in addition to “six counts of prostitution on allegations she performed, offered or consented to perform a sexual act for money or other items of value,” was also named in the sorority investigation.