HBCU Board Officers Address Fiscal Lives at Their Schools

Thomas N. ChewningBy Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Board members of Norfolk State and Howard Universities recently expressed concern about the financial management of their respective institutions which could threaten their accreditation and future stability.
    The NSU sentiment was expressed in a recent article in the Richmond Free Press by Thomas N. Chewning, who was appointed the NSU Rector or Chairman of the school’s 13-member  Board of Visitors, last December.

    The NSU Rector expressed concern about the institution’s fiscal record-keeping, but said he was optimistic the school would put in place the personnel and procedures to effectively clear up problems which have kept it from passing  state financial audits in 2011 and 2012.
    At Howard University in Washington, D.C., Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, Vice Chairwoman of the Howard University Board of Trustees, said in a letter dated April 24, that her school “is in genuine trouble” because of fiscal and management problems revealed in a recently released report by the school.
    Higginbotham-Brooks’ letter was referenced in an article in the June 7 edition of the Washington Post. She said that “Howard will not be here in three years if we do not make some crucial decisions now.”
    The text of her entire letter was printed in a recent edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
    The Virginia State Auditor of Public Accounts has alerted the Governor and General Assembly that NSU has been unable to pass the past two audits due to its inability to maintain the required financial records prompting criticism from lawmakers and members of the school’s Faculty Senate.
    The school’s financial management has also attracted the attention of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools which could sanction the school to the point of pulling its credentials, if not corrected.
    “I am as upset as anybody that we are not where we should be,” said Chewning, in the Richmond Free Press, an African American-owned publication in the capital city.
Dr. Tony Atwater, who was selected as NSU’s President in the spring of 2011, in a letter to faculty and staff acknowledged the school’s inability to pass the two audits and noted action he has taken to resolve  the issue.
    He said that completing the audits “is a high priority for the university’s administration.”
    Atwater pointed out that two “mitigating circumstances” contributed to the situation.
First, in 2012, he wrote in the letter, a new accounting system was brought online which required “transitioning and a significant learning curve for staff members.”
    “Also at the same time the University experienced retirements of key personnel resulting in substantial turnover in the Finance and Administration Division,” said Atwater.  ”The employees lost due to this turnover were at all levels of the finance organization both senior and the most experienced staff employees.  A learning curve for newly hired staff in adapting to the new accounting system resulted in the delay of producing the Fiscal Year 2012 financial statement required by the state auditor.”
    Atwater said that NSU has acquired the services of new employees and former ones with appropriate skills sets, knowledge  and experience to successfully complete the 2011-12 audits and financial statement.
    The 2011 financial statement and responses reportedly are being prepared for a June submission to the Office of the Auditors for Public Accounts.
    NSU, the state’s largest Historically Black University, with some 7,000 plus students has a budget of $150 million, a third of which comes from the state, and the rest derived from tuition and other revenues.

Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Renee Higginbotham-Brooks    Among the concerns Higginbotham-Brooks cited regarding Howard University were competition for students from less expensive public colleges, reductions in federal aid, expenses associated with the (Howard) university hospital, the absence of a robust fundraising system to offset declines in tuition revenue and  the school’s workforce being too large.
    But Addison Barry Rand, the chair of the school Board of Trustees, took issue with Higginbotham-Brooks’ concerns in a message released to the media late last week.
    “Spirited debate and discourse are part of the culture of higher education” said Rand.  ”The board and the university’s leadership team continue to work tirelessly to address many of the tough issues facing colleges and universities like Howard.”
    Higginbotham-Brooks has been on the Howard board since 1997 and has been chairwoman since 2005. In her letter she blamed the school’s fiscal woes on Howard President Sidney A. Ribeau, who was elected to that office in August 2008 after serving 13 years at Bowling Green State University In Ohio.
    Higginsbotham-Brooks accused Ribeau of “lackluster job performance” and said the “partnership” between him and Rand “has not served us well.”
    Howard is a private instruction founded in 1867 and is deemed one of the leading historically Black  universities in the nation.  The school reported 10,583  graduate and undergraduate students in the fall of 2011.  The tuition for 2012-13 was $22,700 which was 12 percent higher than the year before.

Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville

    The challenges facing Howard and NSU surfaced just two weeks after the Board of Trustees at Saint Paul’s College, a small Historically Black College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, announced that  it was closing the 125-year school’s doors.
    Saint Paul’s had a number of financial and administrative woes that caused the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to pull its accreditation in the fall of 2011. 
The school filed a court appeal and had it reinstated temporarily. Meanwhile most of its students were enrolling at other schools.
    When the school failed to secure an extension on the payment of a bank loan in May, the Board said it was forced to shut down effective June 30 of this year.
    Founded by the Episcopal Church, Saint Paul’s had hoped to merge with its sister school Saint Augustine College in North Carolina.

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