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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grambling president calling it quits

Grambling State University president, Horace A. Judson, announced his decision to step down effective Oct. 31. Judson served in the position for five years, and cited family reasons.

“The extraordinary progress that has been achieved in every facet at GSU over the past five years has been validated. I believe that this is a good juncture for me to complete my tenure and focus on my family,” said Judson. “I am proud of all that has been accomplished, and I consider it a privilege to have served as President of GSU.”

“Dr. Judson’s presidency came at a pivotal time in Grambling’s history, and we are grateful for his innovative leadership that will leave many lasting positive changes,” said UL System Board Chair Elsie Burkhalter.

Hired in 2004, Judson’s five-year tenure at Grambling saw many successes including stabilizing enrollment, early introduction of admissions standards, higher ACT scores of incoming freshmen, the creation of Grambling’s Center for Mathematical Achievement in Science and Technology, leadership in the area of service-learning and tremendous upgrades to campus facilities.

Judson who has been under fire since taking the top job at the Louisiana school. His retirement followed Grambling State's Faculty Senat no-confidence vote.

Basically, it’s déjà vu all over again. Judson's tenure followed a similar fate at Plattsburgh State University in Pennsylvania.

Judson resigned as president of PSU in late 2003 following criticisms from students and faculty that he was ignoring their input, isolating himself from the college and community and making poor choices in hirings and firings.

Students and faculty hit him with no-confidence votes before he left his post at Plattsburgh State.

Judson assumed the presidency at Grambling in July 2004 and has been at the center of controversy since.

Constitutionally charged with hiring university presidents, the UL System Board discussed next steps at its Oct. 23 meeting.
Situated on a 383-acre campus in the small town of Grambling, the historically black university has almost 5,000 students.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ala. State carrying $172m in debt

Alabama State University has about $172 million in debt -- enough that it is spending $11.5 million annually just to service it. It has the highest debt-per-student ratio in the state. And some students and administrators think that's a good thing.

The ASU board of trustees voted in late July, just weeks before school started, to increase tuition by 21.8 percent partially to help retire some of the debt.

But while ASU senior Kio shana LaCount may not like a tuition increase, she also didn't like sitting in classrooms with no air conditioning when temperatures climbed above 90 degrees outside. She remembers, as a freshman living in the dorms, moving her belongings up and down five flights of stairs because the elevator was not working.

Those memories are why LaCount believes renovations and building projects at the university are a "necessary evil" even though they have led to increased fees, tuition and room and board for students.

The debts that Alabama State University has accumulated in trying to build facilities to accommodate its student popula tion are also leading to in creased fees, tuition and room and board, said Freddie Gallot Jr., ASU's vice president for fi nance.

"The reason the university went out to the (bond) market to borrow this kind of money was to improve life on campus," Gallot said.

The renovations and building, which have included improvements to the student center, library, education building, dormitories and athletic fields on campus, are about the quality of life on campus, he said.

"In my opinion, this has been a wise investment for the university," Gallot said.

The university is in the midst of a massive building program that includes a $25 million student services center, a $27 million addition to the Levi Watkins Learning Center and a new $6 million Hornet football complex.

LaCount said it is frustrating to look at hundreds of dollars in charges on her bill from the university "for renovations of facilities we are never going to get to use" while she is a student. But, she said, the expansion is very important to the universi ty.

Gallot said, when using bonds to pay for building projects, the university pledges to repay the debt through "tuition and fees and room and board."

ASU borrowed $35 million in 2009, $37 million in 2008 and $41 million in 2006, he said. The debt service for the $35 million the university borrowed in 2009 is $2.4 million.

"All of the previous bond issues were supported by tuition and fees," Gallot said. " ... The university did increase tuition and fees to do that."

The university, Gallot said, still maintained an 'A' credit rating from Moody's and Standard & Poor's as of the university's most recent rating in August. He said the rating is based on the size of the debt, ability to repay the debt, management of the university and the financial condition of the university.

The almost 22 percent in crease in tuition ASU trustees passed on to students this summer "in part was the result of the debt service," Gallot said.

Ken Mullinax, director of public information at ASU, said the university does not have any plans in the near future to increase tuition again.

Before the latest tuition in crease, Gallot said ASU was one of the three most affordable of the 12 public universities in Alabama.

"The most recent increase changed that a little bit," he said.

Trustees raised tuition for in-state students from $2,304 per semester to $2,808.

The percentage increase looked high because tuition had been low, Gallot said, but he said ASU was still a good deal for those wanting an education.

"We are still considered rea sonable," Gallot said.

About 80 to 85 percent of the students at Alabama State receive some form of financial aid, Gallot said.

Before university administrators look at moving forward with tuition and fee increases, he said they research whether the financial aid will cover the costs.

Stanley Giles, president of the Student Government Asso ciation at ASU, said he knows quite a few students are upset about the increase in tuition, but he said he has not spoken to anybody who was not able to re-enroll this fall.

"It is a concern of students, but I don't think it's hindered any students, to my knowledge, from actually getting their edu cation," said the senior market ing major from Little Rock, Ark.

The increased tuition has not led to a dramatic decrease in enrollment. The enrollment dropped from 5,695 students in the fall of 2008 to 5,554 students this fall, according to figures from the university.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A&T distances itself from "homecoming" concert

N.C. A&T has withdrawn its name and financial sponsorship from its annual homecoming concert at the Greensboro Coliseum, Chancellor Harold Martin said Tuesday.

With the recent controversy over gang-affiliated rapper Gucci Mane headlining the show, Martin said he felt the school had to make a "moral stand."

"We could not replace Gucci Mane on the bill at this late date," Martin said. "It is my understanding that more than 6,000 tickets have already been sold. So we made the decision that we would remove our institution's name from all advertising, all marquees, all tickets, and we would withdraw financial support from the show so that we would not be in any way, shape or form associated with his message or his image."

The Oct. 31 show will go on, but will now be put on exclusively by production company Diamond Life Concerts.

"We felt this was something we had to do to protect our name and the values of our institution," Martin said. "I've really enjoyed the conversation that has been generated about this and it's the kind of conversation we need to be having more proactively. And we will - we'll continue to have conversations about who we are and what we value."