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Monday, March 30, 2009

Southern outs president despite positive review

The Southern University System Board of Supervisors decided not renew or extend the contract of the System's President Ralph Slaughter last week by a vote of 11-5. His employment will “cease” when his contract ends on June 30.

The board will meet again April 15 to decide whether to place Slaughter on administrative leave with pay and appoint an interim.

The board voted to remove Slaughter just minutes after he was given a job evaluation “in the category of satisfactory to excellent,” said Board Chairman Tony Clayton, who was one of the 11 voting against Slaughter.

“This had nothing to do with the president’s evaluation,” said Clayton. “Just like the president of our own country, sometimes it’s time for a change.

“We will be looking for a president — a fundraiser — who’s nationally prominent, who can move us forward,” he said.

Clayton also said the decision had nothing to do with Slaughter’s 2007 lawsuit against the board that resulted in his current two-year contract that doubled his salary to $420,000 a year.

Slaughter is considering his legal options.

Just last year, the Southern board threatened to terminate SU Baton Rouge Chancellor Kofi Lomotey.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Audit turns up financial problems at NCCU

State auditors cited N.C. Central University for "significant deficiencies" in the university's handling of its finances for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008.

Among the trouble spots were overpayments to employees of more than $13,000 and underpayments of $6,200, which occurred during calculations for retroactive pay related to salary adjustments.

Auditors noted that the mistakes occurred while NCCU was experiencing "significant turnover" in the university's payroll division that led NCCU to hire "temporary employees to perform crucial payroll functions."

While the overpayments and underpayments are small in the context of a $117 million budget, a spokesman for the Office of the State Auditor the fact that they occurred at all is cause for alarm.

"The amount is not as relevant as the fact that the weakness is there," said state auditor spokesman Dennis Patterson. "It's the fact that there is a weakness, a hole in the armor that might allow for greater loss."

In a statement, NCCU said, "Chancellor Charlie Nelms and the entire NCCU leadership team are fully committed to resolving all internal control issues identified by the Office of the State Auditor."

Auditors found that the university did not properly manage students' accounts. The deficiency resulted in ineligible students being allowed to live on campus and register for classes and the university's accounts receivable balance being misstated.

An examination of 40 student accounts receivable balances found among other things that nine students were allowed to register even though they had a combined balance of $33,194. Policy requires students to pay all of their prior balances and one-half of their current charges before they are allowed to register. Auditors reported that they were unable to determine who was responsible for allowing the students to register.

NCCU officials said steps to resolve the deficiencies include "reviewing and re-engineering the student account process and by strengthening interdepartmental communication and holding ourselves to a higher level of accountability."

Auditors also identified weaknesses in the university's information system's access policy, which they believed could lead to unauthorized or inappropriate transactions.

Those weaknesses included:

- Multiple employees in the information technology systems unit who can log in to the information system under a single user name. This single user name accesses the security form that creates/modifies user accounts, grants access to security classes, sets up passwords and locks/unlocks user accounts. With multiple users having the ability to log in using a single name, there is no way to trace activity to the responsible employee.

- Several individuals having unnecessary access to forms and security classes, even though they had no job responsibilities that required them to have access to some of the forms and/or classes.

In response, NCCU said the items identified by auditors were immediately resolved by "significantly reducing the number of people who are granted access to the information system."

"To further strengthen controls, management has initiated a restructuring program in IT to review and monitor the university security system," the statement said.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tuskegee's Payton to retire in 2010

Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, the fifth President of Tuskegee University, informed the school's Board of Trustees this week of his intent to retire on June 30, 2010. Payton has served as university president for 28 years.

Payton had made it clear that he would only stay on to complete several major objectives such as the University's decennial reaffirmation of accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, as well as certain specialized accreditations of professional programs, such as architecture, veterinary medicine, nursing, teacher education, and engineering, as well as the completion of major renovation and new construction plans.

Speaking for the entire Board of Trustees, Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer, Chairman of the Board, observed that Dr. Payton's "transformative and clear sense of what Tuskegee University could and should become, and his solid leadership, including his enormous fundraising capacities, have enabled him to achieve all of these goals by mid-March 2009.

"He has led the University through some very tough times - to its current status of financial stability, academic excellence and even distinction in athletics," Dr. Brimmer said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

JSU faculty votes "no confidence" in president

The Jackson State University Faculty Senate has taken a vote of "no confidence" against President Ronald Mason.
The measure was adopted by 11-4 vote, wit six senators abstaining.

"We have had some issues for a while," said assistant sociology professor Mahasin Owens-Sabir, secretary of the Faculty Senate executive board. "The Faculty Senate kept hoping that we would be able to work out those issues, but we finally reached the conclusion that they wouldn't be worked out."

The primary concerns cited by senators centered around a proposed unpaid leave program, the school budget, hiring practices and transparency.

JSU has approximately 450 faculty members.

"If this really is reflective of the faculty as a whole, then it's an issue I'd certainly have to deal with," Mason said. "First, we need to know what's behind it - who and why."

Mason took over at Jackson State in 2000. When Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat retires in June after nearly 14 years as school leader, Mason will be the longest serving of the sitting presidents at Mississippi's eight public universities.

Similar resolutions have preceded the resignations of three presidents at Mississippi universities in the past 10 years: Lester Newman at Mississippi Valley State University, Clyda Rent at Mississippi University for Women and Shelby Thames at the University of Southern Mississippi.

But Mason said he thinks his case represents "the perceptions of some members of the Faculty Senate executive committee."

"The Faculty Senate executive committee and I have not always agreed," he said.

During his tenure, JSU has grown from about 6,700 students to about 8,500. The operating budget has swelled from $116 million to more than $182 million.

Since the fall, Mason has been promoting a proposal that calls for the faculty and staff to take four unpaid days off a year to create the fund that will be used to benefit the school. He has said repeatedly that the fund would not be created without a two-thirds vote in favor of it. He repeatedly has asked for suggestions on creating a better proposal.

Upon meeting with campus groups last week, he decided that faculty would vote whether to create a similar voluntary fund, he said. "(The resolution) is factually inaccurate," he said.

Mason said he has a standing meeting with the Faculty Senate executive council once a month. "Every one of these issues has been discussed," he said. "The budget is a public document."

But Owens-Sabir said the Faculty Senate stands behind the concerns outlined in the resolution.

"We would not go this far strictly on emotions," she said. "It's not just something that originated this year."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

With SACS visit on the horizon NCCU missing files

With a once-a-decade, three-day accreditation visit by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools scheduled to take place next month, N.C. Central University is search for missing credentials of 126 of its faculty members.

The university submitted materials to the agency in advance of the April visit, but was notified that their was incomplete information on the credentials of some faculty members.

Until just a month or two ago, the faculty info was on file within NCCU's human resources office.

But that office just relocated, and the faculty files have not found their way yet to a new home. They're in boxes somewhere on campus, said Pauletta Brown Bracy, NCCU's director of university accreditation. They just need to be found and produced before the SACS team arrives April 14.

Bracy said she isn't worried about the credentials of the NCCU faculty; it's all just a matter of misplaced records.

"I think we're in good shape," she said. "We have to make sure they're all accessible."

While it appears a simple matter of unearthing records from boxes, it will be no small matter if the paperwork isn't all in order when the SACS accreditors review it, said Bernice Johnson, NCCU's assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs.

"If they pull your documentation and your CV is not there, the entire university is out of compliance," she said.

Essentially, SACS is making sure that faculty members have the proper background -- advanced degrees, experience, etc. -- for the courses they are teaching.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hampton sues pharmacy accrediting agency

Hampton University has filed suit in federal court seeking to stop the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education from placing the school's pharmacy program on probation.

Provost Joyce Jarrett confirmed the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Newport News last week after she was told by the council that there was no appeals process.

According to the lawsuit, Hampton University maintains they met almost all 30 measures for accreditation by the council but was cited for being only partially compliant with faculty salaries and not having an adequate number of faculty members.

The council had noted the faculty issues in a previous evaluation. Hampton University has been accredited since 2002.

Officials at the council's office in Chicago could not be reached for comment. The university remains accredited and probation status does not impact students currently enrolled in the program, Jarrett said.

The university wants a judgment declaring the council's decision null and void, enjoining the council from revoking the school's accreditation status or taking any other action against Hampton for two years, and awarding "compensatory damages in an amount that presently cannot be calculated" but in an amount not less than $100,000.

The lawsuit states that the council has placed the university in an "impossible situation" because the school must meet a June deadline to recruit new faculty members.

"With the stigma of probationary status, it will be virtually impossible for the school to attract faculty - much less excellent faculty - under the cloud of the public threat that the pharmacy program will lose its accreditation in less than six months if a sufficient number of other faculty are not simultaneously and immediately recruited," the suit states.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Growth moves FVSU forward during tough economy

While the foundering economy has caused some historically black colleges and universities to make drastic cutbacks, Fort Valley State University is chugging forward.

Its aggressive capital improvement campaign is on track, and the university plans to open the recently completed $19.3 million phase of Wildcat Commons — its state-of-the-art, 370-bed dormitory — within the next month.

A new $16.8 million science academic building is expected to open as early as this fall, and the Board of Regents has approved several master’s degree programs in education and biotechnology.

Other historically black colleges and universities in the Georgia aren’t faring as well.

Clark Atlanta University laid off 100 employees due to declining enrollment. Morehouse College did not renew contracts for 25 adjunct professors. And Spelman College eliminated 35 positions and announced plans to phase out its college of education.

FVSU officials say the times are still challenging. This year, the university had to cut its budget by 10 percent, and the university’s endowment has dropped below $5 million.

“We are not immune to what is going on in the rest of the world economically,” said Melody Carter, vice president of external affairs.

Ft. Valley expects to enroll an additional 800 to 1,200 additional students in fall 2009. The more students we add, the beter off we'll be, said FVSU President Larry Rivers. The reason we've not had to lay anyone off is due to our growing enrollment, he said.

The university enrolled 3,106 students in fall 2008.

Adding students means increased revenue from tuition and fees that offset reductions in state funding.

Freshman Dominique Nichols had his eye on an Atlanta college. He wanted to attend Morehouse, but he changed his mind when FVSU offered him a full ride and he got a chance to take in the campus atmosphere as a potential student.
“Something seemed different that made me fall in love with the campus,” said Nichols, who had visited FVSU before during summer camps.

Rivers said he remains optimistic that support from the community, his colleagues, the local legislative delegation and the Board of Regents will keep FVSU moving in the right direction.

“I’m feeling really good about Fort Valley State University right now,” Rivers said.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Morris Brown building auctioned to pay debt

Morris Brown College was unable to keep one of its buildings off the auction block Tuesday.

Jordan Hall was sold for $900,000 in a foreclosure sale on the steps of the Fulton County courthouse. The proceeds from the sale will be deducted from the college's $13.1 construction loan debt for the building.

Jordan Hall houses classrooms and an art gallery and had twice before been scheduled for auction in January and February.

It is the latest in the school's setbacks as it struggles to emerge from $30 million in debt. Last month, Morris Brown was granted an extension on $214,000 in overdue water bills.

Supporters say the sale will not close Morris Brown. Dorms will remain open and students and faculty will continue to report to classes.

The building was sold Tuesday for $900,000 in a foreclosure sale on the steps of the Fulton County courthouse.

The proceeds will be deducted from the college's debt from a $13.1 million construction loan for the building.

Jordan Hall houses classrooms and an art gallery and had twice before been scheduled for auction in January and February.

It is the latest in the school's setbacks as it struggles to emerge from $30 million in debt. Last month, Morris Brown was granted an extension on $214,000 in overdue water bills.

Supporters say the sale will not close Morris Brown. Dorms will remain open and students and faculty will continue to report to classes.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Fisk forced to trim budget by 15 percent

Beset with financial troubles before the nation’s economy began a free fall last year, Fisk University is signaling tougher times ahead.

In a “Family Letter,” dated Feb. 20, Fisk President Hazel O’Leary told the Fisk community the school has lost 11 percent of its enrollment since last August, and that annual donations are down by more than 40 percent for the year. “

To “bring our expenses in line with our reduced revenues,” O’Leary said the school’s board of trustees had approved a 15 percent cut in the school’s budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year ending June 30.

“Our mission to cultivate bright young people of high intellect and character cannot be underestimated in an adverse economic climate,” O’Leary said. Echoing an argument made this time a year ago, O’Leary said ending the fiscal year without a deficit was crucial to maintaining the school’s accreditation.

Estimates, based on published data, put the student revenue loss in excess of $150,000 and donor revenue off by several million dollars. While O’Leary’s statement made no reference to the school’s endowment, which was estimated between $6 million and $8 million at various times during 2008, most endowments are down in value by 20 percent to 40 percent because of the stock market crash. Fisk long ago mortgaged nearly all of its real estate assets to stay in business.

O’Leary said “all areas” of the university have taken steps to cut expenditures, including a freeze in hiring and entering new service and professional contracts, except essential ones, a freeze on nonessential travel, elimination of reassignment of adjunct faculty to merge class sections, cuts in purchases for supplies and operations and cost sharing for critical services.