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Bethune-Cookman president says school facing an ‘existential threat’

Financial and accreditation issues stir blame game and protests this week

11:47 AMBethune-Cookman University is in the news this week, for all the wrong reasons: student protests, accusations of financial mismanagement, rumors of firings and loss of accreditation, and dysfunction on the board of trustees.

All of this stems from what interim president Hubert Grimes calls “an existential threat,” which he has vowed to corrrect to get the university back into good standing. The crux of the problems stems from a bad deal involving the construction of a dormitory that is expected to cost the school millions more than it should.

Students protested on campus Monday and Tuesday, seeking answers and a voice in the decisions that will affect their futures.

“Our problems reflect the culmination of years of inadequate accountability, suspect governance and, quite frankly, inexcusable management decisions,” said Grimes, interim president since July 2017. He replaced controversial president Edison Jackson, who stepped down in July 2017, about a year before his contract was set to expire.

Jackson left the school after a Daytona Beach News-Journal investigation found the university was vastly overpaying for a new dorm, which was originally estimated at $72.1 million and now will cost $306 million over 40 years.

The controversy about the dorm comes up this week as the university’s accrediting organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), plans a visit Thursday and Friday. SACS placed the university on probation earlier this year because of issues ranging from financial instability to inflated enrollment numbers.

If Bethune-Cookman loses accreditation, students won’t be eligible for federal grants or loans. Students have said on social media and elsewhere that if the situation doesn’t get resolved, they will be forced to leave.

Grimes asked for patience amd vowed transparency as the school tries to regain stability: “There is little to be gained by detailing the unfortunate and potentially fatal financial decisions made related to our dorm transaction.”

But Grimes declined Tuesday to discuss a forensic audit that had been provided to members of the media, saying the report “speaks for itself.” The report, written by someone who described himself as a former special agent for the IRS, largely focused on a scholarship that has been paid for by the university since 2013.

Adding to the controversies was Bethune-Cookman National Alumni Association president Robert Delancy, who on Monday pushed to have Michelle Carter-Scott, the board of trustees chairwoman, dismissed and the board restructured.

He said at a news conference that Carter-Scott was partly responsible for the university’s dormitory crisis and she failed to follow through on an obligation to provide $640,000 in scholarships to Bethune-Cookman students through the foundation.