Former San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, the first African American elected to lead the city, has accepted a position as president of Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Taylor, a native of Queens, New York, will be the first woman to lead the historically black, private liberal arts college located near Memphis, Tennessee. Her first day on the job is June 1.
“I’m excited to be turning the page,” Taylor told the Rivard Report on Monday.
The move will take her away from the city she led for three years as mayor, but she and husband Rodney will keep their historic home that faces Dignowity Park as he divides time between cities so that he can manage the couple’s real estate interests. Their 16-year-old daughter will move to Mississippi.
Taylor said she appreciates setting an example for young black women by being the first elected as mayor, but it was the work she is most proud of.
“I tried to tell people I wasn’t a career politician,” she said. “I think they just thought that was a slogan. … Once you run for office people think you’re a politician, and they have a hard time envisioning you as anything else.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Vigaran (D3) has stayed in touch with Taylor since she left politics in 2017 after failing to win reelection, losing to then-Councilman Ron Nirenberg in a runoff.
“I‘m so excited for her and I’m not shocked at all,” Viagran said. “This is something that is absolutely in her wheelhouse.”
Taylor will be taking a leadership role in higher education at a time of unprecedented uncertainty, with classes having moved online and most colleges and universities still formulating plans for when and how to bring students back to campus.
As the coronavirus pandemic started to close down communities across the U.S. in March, Taylor was defending her doctoral dissertation focused on leadership for historically black colleges and universities. She will officially receive her doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania in August.
“This is her calling, I think,” Viagran said. “She’s always been an advocate for communities of color. She’s very thoughtful … [and works] really hard with bringing people to the table to have conversations. Even if it’s uncomfortable.”
During her single elected term as mayor, Taylor brokered a controversial labor agreement with the police union, launched the largely successful comprehensive planning effort SA Tomorrow, negotiated operating agreements with rideshare companies, advocated for the approval of the Vista Ridge water pipeline and a City Charter change to allow salaries for the mayor and City Council, and brought My Brother’s Keeper – an initiative aimed at providing young men of color educational and career opportunities – to San Antonio.
“The butterflies appreciate what we did for them, too,” Taylor said. She signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge in 2015 that led to San Antonio becoming the first Monarch Butterfly Champion City.
Taylor, who served as District 2 representative on City Council for five years, became interim mayor in 2014 after Julián Castro stepped down from the job to join the Obama administration. She entered the 2015 mayoral race late in the game after previously pledging not to seek the job. Despite her late entrance to the race and being outspent at least 2-1 by former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, Taylor received 52 percent of the runoff vote.
Politics wasn’t in Taylor’s sights until well after college. She worked in planning and affordable housing after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s in city and urban planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After several years working as vice president of affordable housing agency Merced Housing Texas, Taylor won the District 2 Council seat in 2009. She served as a lecturer at the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Public Policy and currently works as a consultant with J.L. Powers & Associates.
Her experience as a trustee at Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University, while she was still mayor, sparked a passion for historically black colleges and universities.
“I always described my personal mission as ‘connecting people to opportunity,'” Taylor said. “I kinda got off on the elected office track from my work in affordable housing. Connecting people to opportunities was about making places better, making places stronger. “
“But I had a lightbulb moment after [working with Huston-Tillotson] for a while,” she said. “I realized I wanted to be closer to strengthening people. Higher education, I feel, is the best way to do that.”
Taylor will be stepping down from that board, she said, but will continue to serve on the board of the University of the Incarnate Word. “It’s my hope to continue that connection,” she said.
Tax filings show the previous Rust College president, David Beckley, received a compensation package in 2017 totaling $166,513. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the 2017 pay for other small private college presidents in Mississippi ranged between $329,000 and $375,000. Rust College provides a 10,000-foot mansion for its president.
Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Rust College has an enrollment of 800 and an endowment that was worth $44 million in 2017.
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Does Taylor miss politics?
“No,” she said immediately. “Once that was over, then it was over. I don’t have any particular urge to be in the political scene.”
Ultimately, she’s glad things worked out how they did, she said.
“My plan was to serve [as mayor] for five years and then get a job,” she said. “If I had done that, I wouldn’t have gone back to school. I am so blessed that I had a chance to pursue this doctorate, which has opened up a whole new world for me.”
Taylor is focused on leading Rust College into a new era – one that starts amid a pandemic. Classes there moved online in March, and the school administration is discussing when and how to proceed with classes during the next academic year, she said.
“Higher education has been experiencing a lot of changes … all those questions in the air about the value of higher education, the best format for delivery, access questions, how to recruit first [generation] students,” she said. “Now on top of all of that you’ve got COVID-19 and what does that mean not just for this year, but for the long term?”
“It is kind of weird to be stepping into a leadership role [now] because nothing is certain. Everybody is wondering if enrollment is going to be down or when schools will start,” she said.
Rust is a traditional, residential school, she added. “Living on the campus is a big part of that experience, so we want to be able to safely restart.”
Reporter Shari Biediger contributed to this report.