by Leah Jackson
The Northwestern State University family and the Natchitoches community marked a day of celebration as Dr. Marcus Jones was formally installed as the university’s 20th president Friday, Sept. 9. The formal investiture took place in A.A. Fredericks Auditorium beginning with a procession of faculty and staff in full academic regalia, part of a ceremony steeped in tradition and nostalgia.
Jones was named Northwestern State’s president in November 2021, having served as interim president since the retirement of Dr. Chris Maggio in July 2021.
Honored guests included Gov. John Bel Edwards, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, commissioner of Higher Education, Louisiana Board of Regents, and dignitaries from throughout the region representing government, academia and professional fields. Natchitoches Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr., Student Government Association President Bailey Willis of Opelousas, Faculty Senate President Dr. John Dunn and Leah Sherman Middlebrook, president of the NSU Alumni Association, offered words of welcome.
Edwards congratulated Jones, acknowledging the historic significance of Jones serving as Northwestern State’s first Black president.
“Earning his undergraduate degree at Northwestern, his master’s degree at Grambling, and his law degree at Southern, Dr. Jones is a testament to Louisiana’s public higher education institutions. Dr. Jones has served the NSU community for many years, and I have no doubt he will continue to succeed in his new role,” Edwards said.
Reed said Jones’ investiture is “the culmination of a lifetime of work for an individual who is thoughtful, engaged and committed to student success.”
The formal symbolic installation took place when SGA President Willis, Dr. Jim Henderson, former NSU president and current president of the University of Louisiana System, and Lola Dunahoe of Natchitoches, board member for the University of Louisiana System, invested Jones into office with the academic regalia of the NSU president, a gift from the students of NSU, and the presidential chain, which bears the names of all Northwestern State University presidents.
Jones, a native of Winnfield and one of 20 children, spoke of his parent’s work ethic and the importance they placed on education.
“Primarily because of my parents, I, too, recognize that education is transformative and is connected to our students’ social and economic mobility and potential,” Jones said. “Based on that lifelong viewpoint, my presidency will be focused on doing everything within my power to provide out students with opportunities to succeed in their work and careers and enjoy meaningful and productive lives.
Jones pledged to remove barriers for individuals who aspire to build better lives through education.
“My overarching ambition as president is to enable and empower the university to continue to enrich the souls and spirits of students who will stand at the forefront of innovation, problem-solving and servant-leadership, who will address our future social, environmental and economic challenges and will respond to our global world with empathy, adaptability and kindness,” he continued.
Jones acknowledged the history of Northwestern State, which was founded as the Louisiana’s State Normal School, specifically for the training of teachers, in 1884 on a tract of land that is the oldest continually occupied site for higher education in Louisiana. Sixty students enrolled in the first class and three of them graduated two years later. After 10 years, Normal sent 148 teachers into classrooms around the state. Today Northwestern State bolsters the economy and workforce by providing more than 2,000 qualified graduates annually in multiple fields to businesses, industries, institutions and other entities worldwide.
In 1965, NSU admitted its first seven Black students, including Doris Ann Roque-Robinson and Bishop James Johnson, the only surviving of the seven, who were present and recognized during the investiture.
“Northwestern has embraced change and conquered challenges throughout its nearly 14 decades, which helped fortify and prepare the university for the monumental obstacles of recent times,” Jones said.
SGA President Willis said she is excited to serve with Jones and remarked on his accessibility.
“I will never forget when I was a Freshman Connector, and he came to one of our sessions to connect with the students on a personal level,” Willis said. “While at this Freshman Connection session, he went through the entire process and even joined a color group in which he competed with other students during follies. Dr. Jones opened up his house to us to get to know other organizations and connect with the various populations. He has been on campus for a short time; however, he is already changing the course of NSU for the better.”
Willis lauded Jones’ efforts in securing capital outlay funds and partnering with donors to improve campus infrastructure and his initiatives in reaching international students to create a more diverse atmosphere at NSU.
“He is proactive in adhering to the suggestions SGA provides in helping improve our campus and is always eager to help NSU become even more for the students than it already is,” Willis said. “I look forward to collaborating with and seeing all of the great things he will do for NSU in the future. “
Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance from Northwestern State, a master’s in international business and trade from Grambling State University and a law degree from Southern University Law Center where he was managing editor of the Southern Law Review. He also studied international business and finance at the University of Plymouth in Plymouth, England.
Jones has an extensive academic, business and legal background, having served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for the University of Louisiana System for the past year, where oversaw the areas of business finance, internal/external audit function, EEO and IT for the System and handled matters of system level importance on behalf of the UL System president. He also oversaw management of budgets, administration, policies and procedures and international relations and acted as the legal liaison for the System.
Jones was NSU’s executive vice president for university and business affairs from 2017-2020 where he was a key administrator in the planning, operation and management of the University. He has been a member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1994 as an instructor of business, assistant professor of business law and international business, associate professor of business law and international business and has held the Ben D. Johnson Endowed Professorship since 1999.
Following the formal ceremony, Jones greeted well-wishers at a community reception in the Friedman Student Union Ballroom.
Prior to Friday’s investiture, Jones, a patron of the arts, was honored with a Thursday evening reception that featured selected watercolor paintings by artist Edgar Cano that depict iconic scenes of the university and acknowledge it’s 138-year history. Cano is a native of Vera Cruz, Mexico, who earned a master’s degree at Northwestern. While serving as vice president of University Affairs and leading the forefront of recruiting international students to the university, Jones was instrumental in recruiting Cano to Natchitoches. Cano recently joined the faculty in NSU’s Department of Fine and Graphic Art.
Following Thursday’s reception, NSU’s Wind Symphony honored Jones as it presented its first concert of the year featuring the premiere of a work commissioned by the faculty, staff and students of the Mrs. H.D. Dear, Sr. And Alice E. Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts at Northwestern State in celebration of Jones’ investiture.
The title of the work, “The Journey: where our paths may go” was recommended by the students in agreement with Jones. The work was presented as a processional and included elements of the institutions from which Jones earned degrees, the Grambling State Fight Song, the Southern University Alma Mater and Northwestern State University Alma Mater. The work was also used as the faculty processional during the President’s Friday morning investiture, along with choral selections by the NSU Chamber Choir.
Friday morning events began with a Patriot Day Tribute hosted by the Student Government Association at the flagpole between Caspari Hall and the Student Services Center with flags lowered to half-staff in memory of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.