Columnist 

ASU’s new chancellor: From rural Mississippi to international studies


Growing up on a farm in southern Mississippi, Tim Hudson was an unlikely candidate to become an advocate and expert on international studies and the value of foreign study programs for American college students.

“When I first set foot on a college campus, I don’t think I had ever met a person from another country,” he told members of the Kiwanis Club of Jonesboro during their meeting last week.

That first college experience was at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. He went there mainly as part of a bargain with his father. Because the campus was nearby, he could continue his work on the farm while commuting to college.

Higher education has a way of opening your eyes to the world, and an outstanding history professor inspired Hudson to major in history and Latin American studies. In 1975 he graduated with highest honors from Southern Miss, then stayed to earn a master’s degree in geography two years later.

Geography was also his primary field of study for doctoral work — far from the fields of rural Mississippi. He earned a doctorate from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., in 1980.

His education served as part of the preparation for Hudson’s newest job. On May 1 he became the second chancellor for the Jonesboro campus of Arkansas State University, and among his qualifications was his expertise on international studies.

ASU, originally a school of agriculture and for many years a regional university, is spreading its wings to offer its students a broader range of opportunities. One way that’s being done is by recruiting students from other countries; ASU now has about 1,000 foreign students from 62 countries among its population of almost 14,000.

That can be done, Hudson noted, because the American system of higher education “is still the gold standard in the world.”

It’s just as valuable, he added, that American students have a chance to meet and interact with students from other countries. “There’s an old saying: ‘It’s easy to hate a country, harder to hate a person,’” he said.

After taking the ASU position, one of his first assignments was a trip to the Mexican state of Queretaro, investigating the possibility of establishing as ASU sister campus there. In September, a delegation from the city of Queretaro, which has a population of about two million, visited the Jonesboro campus.

At the time Hudson explained that such a venture offers an opportunity for global leadership and that any ASU campus in Mexico would be self-supporting financially and generate revenue for ASU-Jonesboro. It also would offer new opportunities for internships and exchange programs for ASU-Jonesboro students and faculty.

Hudson’s own career received a significant boost from receiving two Fulbright Fellowships, one to study in Mexico and another to study in Germany, as well as an ITT International Fellowship to study in Colombia, South America. Those opportunities helped give him the foundation to develop and lead more than 30 programs for U.S. students to study abroad.

He recently co-authored a book on multinational corporation subsidiaries in China and has a long list of published articles on international subjects ranging from narcotics trafficking in South America to the European monetary system.

Hudson has other interests that will help him with his duties at ASU-Jonesboro.

For one thing, I learned not long after he was hired that he is an avid baseball fan, having grown up listening to St. Louis Cardinals games on radio. In fact, when he was a kid, he had a chance to meet Cardinal Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, who lived in southern Mississippi then. He and his brother impressed Dean by reciting the entire lineup of the 1934 Cardinals World Series champion team, also known as the Gashouse Gang.

He should fit in well at Jonesboro, which is still known as Cardinal country.

Like the first ASU-Jonesboro chancellor, Dr. Robert Potts, Hudson is affable, self-deprecating and quick to make friends. Potts retired earlier this year after staying on to serve for nearly a year as interim president of ASU, and Dr. Dan Howard served as interim chancellor during the search process.

After serving six years as president of the University of Houston at Victoria, Hudson had been in the Texas Tech University system, first as special assistant to the chancellor for international programs and initiatives and then as vice chancellor, when he was tapped by ASU.

He has found ASU-Jonesboro big enough, though, to provide a wealth of opportunities for its students — with 160 fields of study in 45 degree fields. “But it’s not so large that people get lost,” he said. “We have a 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which allows students to get to know their teachers.”

ASU’s graduation rate of 44.6 percent (within six years) is good, he said, but needs to go up.

He and his wife, the former Dr. Deidra “Dee Dee” Ransburgh, a native of Alabama, have three children. They are happy, he said, to move to a smaller community and to be back among people who say “you all” and “ya’ll.”

Seeing the world doesn’t change your roots.

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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at royo@suddenlink.net.