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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Paul Quinn gets temporary injunction to maintain accreditation

Paul Quinn College won a temporary yet significant battle in preventing the college from having its accreditation removed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Inc. (SACS). Attorneys for the school secured a preliminary injunction that allows it to maintain its current accreditation status.

The document from the Atlanta Division of the United States District Court stated: “Paul Quinn College … is hereby reinstated to membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Inc ., (SACS-COC), in the same status it was in immediately before the action to remove it; that is, as a member on Probation.”

The injunction is pending until the final outcome and resolution of Paul Quinn’s case will be resolved. It’s not sure at this point of what further actions will be taken by SACS or the North District Court. The injunction will allow Paul Quinn to remain accredited during the pendency of its litigation against SACS – challenging efforts to remove accreditation from the 137-year-old college. As a result of the Aug. 27 order, Paul Quinn may continue to award degrees and distribute federal financial aid to students. Fall classes will begin as planned on October 5.

“The injunction allows Paul Quinn to continue serving students and the community in its full capacity, and represents another step toward securing the long-term future of this college,” said William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront and lead counsel for Paul Quinn. The law firm filed the injunction on Aug. 25 in Atlanta.

The accreditation dispute involving Paul Quinn has become among the most closely watched cases in higher education. SACS’ Commission on Colleges notified the school on June 25 that it was removing it from membership in the organization, and that decision was affirmed by an appeals committee on August 24.

The following day, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront filed a lawsuit in Atlanta federal district court and a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

The Storefront argued that SACS had violated Paul Quinn’s common law and statutory due process rights and that removing the school’s accreditation would represent “catastrophic and irreparable harm” for the institution, the oldest historically Black college in Texas. The filings demonstrate the extraordinary recent progress the school has made in its financial and administrative management – and cite ongoing concerns that SACS “made multiple material factual errors in connection with its assessment of [Paul Quinn’s] financial condition.”

The Storefront alleged that SACS violated the Higher Education Act by denying Paul Quinn the opportunity to “present new and significant financial information” relating to its accreditation appeal.

Paul Quinn President Michael J. Sorrell hailed the developments as a signal that the college would ultimately prevail in its legal challenge and ongoing pursuit
of accreditation.

“This is an incredibly important day in the history of Paul Quinn College,” said

“The message for our students, faculty, alumni and supporters is that we remain fully accredited, confident in our future, and focused on our goal of becoming one of America’s great small colleges.”

In spite of significant improvements under Dr. Sorrell, who took over as president in 2007, SACS still voted to revoke the school from its membership in June.

Paul Quinn immediately appealed and made their appeal presentation on Aug. 18. When SACS formally informed the college that it is upholding its decision on Aug. 25, Paul Quinn immediately filed for the injunction. Two experts hired by Bickel and Brewer, an accountant and a former higher education policy executive, both assessed that the school had actually complied with SACS’ requirements. An excerpt of the filed complaint reads: “The Decision that the College had not demonstrated its financial stability or availability of financial resources was based on erroneous findings with respect to the College’s account payables, operations and Maintenance costs, budget deficit and financial plan. Besides those erroneous factual determinations, there existed no other substantial evidence to support the Commission’s negative findings as they related to the College’s finances.”

The complaint further argued that SACS “Violated the due process rights by failing to follow its own standards and policies in reaching the decision to revoke the College’s membership,” plus that the college will suffer “irreparable harm” if accreditation is not granted.


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