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Bennett College

Student petition now calling for dismissal of Bennett College financial vice president

Accreditation is still an issue as new accusations surface

Bennett College’s whirlwind past few months have tested the resilience of the first all-women’s historically black college to an extent not many could have foreseen.

After raising $9.5 million to date through the #StandWithBennett campaign, the college was notified on Feb. 18 that it would still be denied accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

However, shortly after the ruling from the SACSCOC appeals committee, Bennett moved quickly to file a lawsuit against the commission and asked for a motion to obtain a temporary restraining order to forbid the organization from revoking the college’s accreditation.

Bennett regained its accreditation on Feb. 22 after a federal court in Atlanta ruled in its favor. Therefore, Bennett will remain accredited for the foreseeable future as the appeal moves forward.

However, there are now questions about allegations of financial impropriety by LeRoy Summers Jr., the college’s vice president of business and finance. Student Government Association president Alexis Nicole Branch has started a petition demanding the removal of Summers.

In her online petition, Branch urges Bennett students to sign the form to hold the administration accountable and says if action is not taken to remove Summers by March 11, she and the rest of the Bennett students who sign the petition will withdraw from the college.

In a statement Wednesday, Branch said:

“I started this petition because I could no longer be silent about the incompetence of our VP of business and finance. He has created an unpleasing environment on our campus due to lack of responsiveness & now we are in this accreditation scare and we are supposed to say it is ok because he made a mistake when our doors are about to close? … In addition, I have tried on several occasions to speak up about his irresponsiveness to the students needs and I was shamed by bullies in this administration for it.”

In a statement issued late Wednesday, the college responded by saying it “has no comment at this time.”

The college did issue a statement addressing the petition on Monday:

“Bennett College administrators are aware of the online petition being circulated by SGA President Alexis Branch that calls for the removal of LeRoy Summers, Jr., the institution’s vice president for business and finance. College officials are investigating the allegations made against Summers, though they are unaware of any facts to support the claims being made. Of the reported 219 signatures on the petition as of today, college officials have been able to verify only 22 of them as belonging to current Bennett students. Moreover, it has been determined that some of the signatures belong to males. Bennett College is an institution for women only.”

Here are several answers regarding Bennett College’s accreditation situation:

How long will the restraining order last for Bennett against the SACSCOC?

According to Bennett College president Phyllis Dawkins, the restraining order and lawsuit could last anywhere from a couple of months to up to two years. During all steps of the legal process, Bennett will maintain accreditation as a result of the temporary restraining order.

When the restraining order ends, how will Bennett remain accredited?

Bennett has already started the application process to become accredited by another accrediting body, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).

This process could take up to a year for Bennett to gain accreditation from TRACS; however, Dawkins said the school has requested an expedited process from the association.

TRACS will be visiting Bennett’s campus on March 14.

Why did SACSCOC not restore Bennett’s accreditation despite the $9.5 million raised?

The appeals committee for SACSCOC found that Bennett had “failed to show that the institution possesses resources demonstrating a stable financial base to support the mission and scope of programs and services.”

According to the accrediting body, this finding was based on the additional financial information that was provided by Bennett during the appeals process. The school had been stripped of accreditation solely because of financial issues, so it was allowed to provide new financial information since the adverse decision was initially made on Dec. 9, 2018.

By rule, Bennett was allowed to provide new financial information to SACSCOC after the initial revocation of accreditation in hopes of a reversal of the decision if the appeals committee found the new information important and substantial enough to reverse its decision.

Since the final ruling from SACSCOC, Bennett officials have said that the accrediting body’s ruling was “adverse” and “unfair” and mentioned that the “SACSCOC did not adhere to its own rules in regarding us.”

Bennett presented the appeals committee with an accepted audited statement that said the school raised $8.3 million at the time of the formal appeal.

Who were some of the people and organizations that donated to the school?

The college has received donations from more than 170 individuals, foundations, churches, universities, sororities, fraternities and corporations. Among the gifts are a $1 million donation from High Point University, $1 million jointly from Kwanza Jones and José E. Feliciano, and $500,000 each from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and Papa John’s Pizza CEO Steve Ritchie.

Where does the $9.5 million go now?

Dawkins said the $9.5 million in donations will go to various aspects of the college. Dawkins mentioned that the money will be used for daily operations, cash reserve, debt payment, scholarships and student life.

How are students reacting to this series of events?

According to Dawkins, students were saddened by the news but the majority of students are standing with Bennett and are not planning on transferring.

What will be done about the incoming students who have applied to Bennett?

In an earlier interview with The Undefeated, Dawkins said 3,500 students have started applications to attend Bennett College for the upcoming fall semester. After the latest developments with its accreditation, Dawkins said they will work to let prospective students know they can still enroll at Bennett for the fall semester.

Bennett College is looking to take the next steps in its fight to remain a pillar for the education of African-American women.

“Our fight continues. The accreditation process can be slow and even disappointing at times. The negative decision by SACSCOC to remove Bennett from membership will not disrupt the daily operations of college,” Dawkins said during a Feb. 22 news conference. “We will continue educating our young women to become analytical thinkers, effective communicators and phenomenal leaders. We urge everyone to keep the faith and know that Bennett College is standing strong. Please join us in remaining steadfast in our commitment to #StandWithBennett.”

Donovan Dooley is a Rhoden Fellow and a multimedia journalism major from Tuscaloosa, AL. He attends North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University.