This story is a part of the series “President’s Corner” about the unique experiences, vision and leadership styles of each president at our nation’s 107 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Ronald Mason Jr. is the leader of the Southern University System  in the state of Louisiana. Its headquarters sits on the property of Southern University in Baton Rouge campus.

The System is exactly what it sounds like: a system of universities in the Louisiana state who’s earliest foundations began in 1880, and is the first of its kind among Black colleges.

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With over 30 years of experience in the field Mason believes the System has the potential to make other higher education institutions think about running behind and following suite. He sits with Robert Hoggard of HBCU Buzz in this exclusive interview to talk about how the System operates, skills learned in higher education and working with the Obama administration.

Robert: What is the experience like leading the only HBCU University system? How do you balance your time overseeing five campuses?

President Mason: As a System, Southern has has the potential to be a model for higher education. We are reducing costs by centralizing business operations, expanding our community college onto the four year campuses, and creating an online college. The distance between the campuses is a challenge, especially Shreveport, but I enjoy the work as president and having good Chancellors to run the campuses helps.

Robert: You have over 30 years of experience in Higher Education. What has been the most meaningful thing that you have learned over the years?

President Mason: I have learned that you have to push but understand where people are, do the right thing in the right order, and commit to making progress every day.

Robert: In your position as a White House Board of Advisors for HBCU’s, what is your main goal? What do you want to see out of the Board because of your leadership and input?

President Mason: The PBA is supposed to be a link between the President, Corporate America and HBCUs.  I’d like to see it do more to make those linkages happen.

Robert: Both of your degrees come from Columbia and you have won the John Jay award for distinguished Alumni in 2008. How significant has Columbia been to your leadership over the years? What has Columbia taught you?

President Mason: Columbia changed my life.  When I left New Orleans to go there it was my first time on an airplane or outside of Louisiana. The seventies was a good time to be in New York.  Columbia taught me to see the world from the eyes of people with wealth and earthly power.  It also taught me the importance of the perceived value of the degree.