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Friday, May 18, 2007

Some faculty, students want CAU president out

The chorus of dissent at Clark Atlanta University, an institution that has struggled to emerge from financial and institutional crisis in the last five years, is growing louder -- just in time for graduation.

In the last three months, faculty and student groups have been calling for the ouster of President Walter Broadnax, who will speak at Monday's commencement ceremony.

On Tuesday, some faculty, students and alumni say they plan to hold a press conference to again ask for Broadnax's "immediate removal."

Members of the board of trustees, which oversees the school, have said they will continue to support him.

Last month, more than 80 percent of faculty members cast a vote of "no confidence" in Broadnax, who, in his five-year tenure, has taken a series of unpopular steps he said were needed to stave off financial crisis. He slashed staff and academic programs and re-structured the school, and announced plans to phase out the library and engineering schools, among others, a decision that caused contention on the fractious campus.

In recent months, students have held protests on campus, complaining that they are not getting enough for their steep tuition costs.

Last month, six Clark Atlanta graduate students sued the school for breach of contract, saying it failed to offer the courses necessary for them to earn their degrees in a timely fashion. The students, who were enrolled in the African-American Studies & Africana Women's Studies programs at Clark Atlanta, said in the suit they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars pursing degrees "they cannot obtain because CAU's financial woes have resulted in severe faculty under staffing of the program." The suit was filed in late April in Superior Fulton County Court.

Broadnax has said when he arrived on campus in August 2002, he found a university that was millions of dollars in debt and collecting only half the tuition students owed. The school had overspent the previous year's $100 million budget by $7.5 million.

Juanita Baranco, chair of the Board of Trustees, said Broadnax has the "full support of the board." Baranco said the school is continuing its financial recovery.

"There is a lot of tension between Dr. Broadnax and the faculty," she said. "But when you're in the middle of doing a turn around, when you have to shut down programs, that is not unusual."

Baranco declined to comment on the specifics of Broadnax's contract. She said board will soon an appoint an executive vice president of operations who will handle the day-to-day running of the school to allow Broadnax to spend nearly all of his time on fundraising endeavors.

"I am not saying Dr. Broadnax is perfect, but he took us through a very difficult time," she said. Clark Atlanta continues to improve, she said.

"We are in a difficult situation but not an impossible one."

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