When Dr. Vivian Fuller testified in 1992 at a congressional subcommittee hearing on gender inequities in intercollegiate athletics, she specifically addressed the lack of women in athletic administration.
"Women should not be limited to traditional positions in such as assistant or associate director of athletics.... In particular, when director of athletics positions become vacant, institutions should consider hiring a woman for the job," she said in her prepared statement.
Fuller's words have proved prophetic. At the time, she was in one of those "traditional" roles as associate director of Intercollegiate Athletics at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. But she went on to crack glass ceilings at several schools. She was the athletics director at Maryland-Eastern Shore, Tennessee State and Northeastern Illinois universities.
In July came another Fuller first: The 56-year-old daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper became the first woman athletics director at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Earlier this year, another gender barrier was broken when Dr. Carolyn Meyers became the institution's first female president.
Their leadership comes at a critical time. As part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in NCAA Division I ranks, Jackson State's football program is ineligible for the SWAC championship game because of players' low academic performance based on the NCAA Academic Progress Rate scores. The program faces possible expulsion from the NCAA if the scores do not improve. The Academic Progress Rate is a four-year average based on the institution's overall student-athlete eligibility, graduation and retention rates.
Fuller says she is attacking the situation head-on. "We're going to look at improving student-athlete welfare through monitoring, advising and mentoring. We want to make sure they graduate and become good citizens who give back to their community." One of Fuller's strategies for helping student-athletes is "getting really involved with alumni." To that end, just days after being appointed, she developed a relationship with a recently established group, the JSU Alumni Players Association.
One of its founding members, Tougaloo College professor Eric Stringfellow, says, "Dr. Fuller has really embraced our organization. She has her own ideas, but she is also asking for help."
Meyers emphasizes academics when offering her views on Fuller's appointment. "Dr. Fuller possesses full academic and athletic credentials and experiences. These are consistent with the JSU athletic history and focus on athletes being scholars too," Meyers says. The state board of higher education recently approved Fuller's $150,000 salary, which is $50,000 more than her predecessor was paid.
Jackson State is one of the nation's largest historically Black institutions, with undergraduate and graduate enrollment of 8,783. …