Introducing Tom Jackson Jr., Ph.D., Humboldt State’s new president
It’s not everyday you meet a university president who has the tenacious intention of changing their student body’s perspective beyond their educational experience.
Tom Jackson, Jr., Ph.D. began his incumbency as Humboldt State University’s eighth President in June 2019. In his second university president position, Jackson plans for more than just the future of the university, but also for the success of the current and future students.
“The students I want to gain are important,” Jackson said. “But the students we have now are more important. They are the ones that we want to see succeed and want to see finish now.”
With 11 professional positions under his belt, Jackson is far more than familiar with holding an administrative position at a university. From Assistant Director of Residence Life to Dean of Students, Jackson has worked at campuses across the United States, including the University of Southern California, Texas A&M University, University of Louisville and more recently as the president of Black Hills State University.
Aside from his educational work, Jackson spends his free time riding horses, scuba diving, flying planes and watching college sports. The last 21 years of his life, however, have also been spent raising his now 21-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter with his wife, Mona Jackson.
“I can’t have too many expensive hobbies,” Jackson said. “And being a pilot and plane owner is a very expensive hobby, particularly when you add in being a father of two college-aged students.”
When asked about the number one lesson that could be taken away from his previous presidency position at Black Hills State University, Jackson replied with the idea that he has based every administrative position around providing students with a positive, educational and meaningful experience.
“It’s the focus on our student body,” Jackson said. “It is really simple. The arguments all go away when we connect the importance of what we’re doing to what students are aspiring to do.”
Acknowledging the ups and downs of education as a meaningful practice creates for a positive outlook on day to day life. It is this similar thought process that Jackson hopes to bring to light as the new president of HSU. Over the past few semesters, students have been searching for support and protesting about issues that are important to not only the student body but the surrounding community as well.
“If you had a positive day and you learned something that links to your educational experience, you’ll be just fine the next day.” Jackson said. “If you wake up angry at the world, then you’re not starting off the day in the most positive state of mind.”
With the murder of David Josiah Lawson and the verdict declining to indict any person a part of his stabbing, students have felt pain and worry as they continue their education at HSU. Feeling safe on campus and in the community is important for students and their parents, and Jackson thinks so too.
“We have to be able to provide our students a controlled opportunity to figure it out for themselves,” Jackson said. “It is no different than what our parents tried to have us do… if they were that type of parent.”
In July 2018, an HSU press release stated the final decision made to cut the football program after the end of the season. Students, faculty and community members were outraged and disappointed with the decision.
“There is no secret that football is expensive,” Jackson said. “To keep a football program usually means you have a student body that is willing to pay a pretty good price to keep it here because that is where the source of funds comes from along with the donors.”
Jackson talks about the recent knowledge of head injuries in the sport of football and how it can add to the perspective of why so many universities cutting their teams may be a positive change. He asks the question, “Is keeping a football program the most responsible thing we could be doing today?”
According to Jackson, the Saturday evening excitement that comes with supporting a football team is an emotional experience that most students and community members look forward to.
“We’re missing that excitement on a Saturday that brings people together,” Jackson said. “That is what we have to revisit as a university. What is it that is going to bring us together today?”
With the loss of football, came the conversation of a potential diversity decrease that may result from losing the program. Although Jackson accepts the intention behind that conversation, he mentions his rejection to the argument.
“In its simplicity, that is saying that football was about diversity,” Jackson said. “That’s troubling because there are other ways to have diverse conversations.”
One of Jackson’s many goals for students is to be able to comfortably have diverse conversations on campus without having to go out of the way to do so.
In the coming years, he hopes to create a community where diversity is not just based upon the color of your skin, opinions on complicated subject matters or what you look like, but the person that you are.
Jackson is also focused on the improvement of HSU’s retention rate through marketing and outreach, which links to enrollment. He mentions that the cost of off-campus student housing may be the biggest limiting factor the school has involving enrollment.
“Another goal is to strengthen our relationships in the community and connect our student body to the community as one,” Jackson said. “Tied to that is branding ourselves in a different way.”
Jackson brings a different perspective to light when he talks about the way HSU portrays itself. He alludes to the idea that hearing all of the negativity and baggage prevents people from wanting to a part of the school’s community and believes showing off strengths is more attractive and promising.
“I want us to focus on the good,” Jackson said. “I want us to celebrate the good and enjoy the place that we happen to be at today.”