Bowie State president steps down as of Dec. 31 Pollard resigns post amid investigation of misspending

December 05, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Kirsten Scharnberg and Mike Bowler contributed to this article.

Nathanael Pollard Jr., whose five years as head of Bowie State University were marred by a fund-raising scandal that is sparking major changes in the way Maryland's public colleges raise money, resigned yesterday amid an investigation into his conduct.

Shortly after a closed-door meeting yesterday with a university system committee trying to decide whether to punish Pollard for the misspending of scholarship money, the 59-year-old mathematician told committee members he would step down Dec. 31.

He made no public statements and could not be reached for comment.

An audit concluded Aug. 13 that Bowie State's private fund-raising foundation had, while under Pollard's control, misspent $182,000 restricted for scholarships and campus activities on extravagances, including a cruise and banquets.

Lance W. Billingsley, chairman of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, said yesterday that the problems at the Bowie State University Foundation will "definitely" lead to greater scrutiny over the system's private fund-raising organizations.

"The situation at Bowie has alerted us to the fact that we need to better police the foundations and to provide better guidelines systemwide on what role university presidents should play in them," Billingsley said.

Billingsley added that the misspending by the Bowie foundation was not the only problem that had raised serious concerns among the Board of Regents.

Faculty and staff at the 4,800-student commuter school in Prince George's County have complained about Pollard's sometimes autocratic leadership, with the professors casting a vote of no confidence in him in 1996.

A United Arab Emirates company recently sued the university for $500,000 for allegedly breaking a contract that would have allowed the company to use Bowie's logo for a Middle Eastern educational institution.

In the spring of 1996, Pollard nearly provoked an international incident with Chad President Idriss Deby by failing to follow through on an agreement that would have brought Bowie State University hundreds of thousands of dollars for help in setting up an educational system in that nation.

The Sun reported in May that Pollard had chosen as the head of the Bowie State University Foundation a vice president for student affairs, Russell A. Davis, who had lied about receiving a doctorate and whose wages were being garnisheed for improperly taking $3,873 from another nonprofit organization.

Davis left the foundation the next day and resigned from the university two days later.

An audit and investigation by the University System of Maryland were begun soon after. A committee of the system's Board of Regents is scheduled to report Feb. 5 on how the system can better scrutinize its affiliated nonprofit fund-raising organizations.

Students and faculty at Bowie said they were surprised and relieved to hear of Pollard's resignation last night.

"No way, he really quit?" asked Julius Burgess, a junior majoring in marketing. "That's a big shock. But the majority of people aren't going to be upset over this. I'd guess that most people around campus are going to be pretty happy about it."

Another student, freshman Leah Walker, said that talk of financial problems has troubled the campus too long. "We hear about problems with financial aid, about problems with admission payments, about sports teams without enough of a budget to run a program," she said.

Many faculty members were guarded with their statements but said they were glad Pollard is leaving, saying that morale had suffered at the school.

"It's a pity is that it's taken this long and that so much damage has been done to the reputation of a good school," said sociology Professor Donald Morgan.

"The Board of Regents refused to listen to the faculty, which had a greater insight into Dr. Pollard than the regents."

Numerous faculty members complained that Pollard had been a poor manager and had been known for arbitrary reshuffling of top administration positions.

From 1980 to 1990, Pollard rose to become associate provost of what is now Clark Atlanta University in Georgia; from 1990 to 1993, he was provost and then acting president of Virginia State University. He helped to strengthen finances at both schools, supporters said.

Pollard took on the leadership of Bowie State at a difficult time five years ago, when it was recovering from slumping enrollment and trying to change from a historically black teachers college into a university with a broader student base emphasizing the sciences.

John Martin, the university system's top fund-raising official and president of the University of Maryland Foundation, praised Pollard's contributions to the university, especially in expanding its computer science programs.

ZTC "I don't think foundation issues were the sum and total of the resignation," he said. "Dr. Pollard may have realized that a more productive career for him lies elsewhere.

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