Bowie State's overseas deals raise questions Suit alleges breach of contract over agreement in Mideast

November 15, 1998|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

At a time when Bowie State University's president is facing sanctions over his handling of the school's fund-raising organization, the university has become a target for complaints about its deals overseas.

Bowie State is being sued for breach of contract over a deal with a Dubai, United Arab Emirates, company that wanted to establish an educational institute in the Middle East using the university's name, logo and other identifying marks.

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seeks $500,000 for expenses that the institute incurred before the agreement fell apart.

"The representatives [for Dubai] thought everything was taken care of," said Anser Ahmad, an attorney representing the educational institute. But Bowie officials said they weren't going to honor the contract, he said.

Loretta Hardge, a spokeswoman for Bowie State, said the institute failed to honor the agreement by enrolling students contrary to standards set by the University System of Maryland.

"There were some expectations that were obliged to be met," Hardge said. "We are not certain that those standards have been met."

The Dubai project is similar to a failed deal between Bowie State and Chad, in Africa, which was also aimed at setting up an educational satellite in that country.

Bowie State's problems with the governments of Chad and Dubai are raising concerns about how the school arranges deals with foreign nations.

Lance W. Billingsley, chairman of the University System Board of Regents, said he is concerned about disputes between a system campus and foreign countries, particularly when the controversy could cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

"I wouldn't have a problem with Maryland institutions setting up collaboration with other institutions around the world," Billingsley said. "I would insist, absolutely insist, that those contracts would be managed in a way that would not cost the state of Maryland a penny."

Billingsley said the issues raised in the Dubai suit will be reviewed by the regents committee on organization and compensation as the group considers sanctions against University President Nathanael Pollard Jr. for misspending funds from the university's fund-raising foundation.

University system officials are weighing whether to punish Pollard for misspending of $182,000 in funds restricted for scholarships and campus activities.

The regents committee is expected to complete its review of Pollard's performance by the end of the year.

Faculty members at the 4,800-student college in Prince George's County have issued votes of no confidence against the president.

Bowie State entered into the agreement with the South Educational Institute in Dubai on Oct. 24, 1996. Under the agreement, the institute was to offer undergraduate and graduate programs in areas including administration, business and the arts.

In exchange for use of Bowie State's name and curriculum, the institute was to pay 10 percent of tuition fees collected and $30,000 a year.

To end the agreement, the two parties had to give each other a year's notice.

The agreement broke down during the fall of 1997 after Bowie State questioned whether the institute, a private enterprise, was following the standards set by the University System of Maryland and the Mid States Accreditation Board in terms of student enrollment and faculty recruitment, according to the suit and Hardge.

In letters dated Oct. 27 and Oct. 30, 1997, and Jan. 30, 1998, Bowie State told the institute to stop using the university's logo and other paraphernalia, according to the suit.

When the institute did, students withdrew from the institute and forced it to close, according to the suit.

"They had to reimburse students for tuition; they had to reimburse faculty members," Ahmad said. "It definitely was a major financial loss."

In the Chad incident, Bowie State was close to completing an agreement in the spring of 1996 with Chad President Idriss Deby. Deby promised the school hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for Bowie State's help, according to a source close to the deal.

Pollard also had promised Deby an honorary degree, but the relationship soured after Pollard's visit to Chad in the spring of 1996. Pollard felt insulted that Deby made him wait for a meeting until just before the Bowie State president had to catch a plane home.

After Pollard returned to the United States, he rescinded his promise of an honorary degree and the work necessary to complete the deal was not done.

"There were some concerns by Chad," said Billingsley, who helped smooth relations with the African nation. "The question there was whether or not a meeting of the minds was complete and whose responsibility it was that the meeting was incomplete."

Billingsley tried to resolve the dispute by promising the Chad president that he would receive the degree.

"It didn't rise to the level of a diplomatic incident," Billingsley said. "There was an acknowledgment of miscommunication. It TTC turns out that the president couldn't come anyway."

Hardge, who was not involved in the Chad controversy, said she doesn't think the Dubai and Chad incidents are related.

She said the Chad case is irrelevant to the current lawsuit.

She would not comment further on the details of either case.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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