Morris Brown president quits after losing appeal

Board refuses to reinstate Ga. college's accreditation

April 17, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

After losing the battle to win back his institution's accreditation, the president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta has abruptly resigned, leaving its board of trustees vowing to keep the 122-year-old college open, despite being a bit uncertain as to how.

"We don't plan to close the school, by no means," said Bishop Frank C. Cummings, the chairman of the board at Morris Brown. "It is our desire to bring the school back on line and make it better than it ever was."

Cummings said the board has convened a committee to figure out how to go forward but has not made any formal proposals.

Dr. Charles E. Taylor, the president who pledged to drag the college back from the brink of insolvency or quit if he failed, stepped down after seven months on Tuesday, a week after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools refused to reinstate Morris Brown's accreditation on appeal.

That ruling, essentially a reiteration of the association's decision to revoke the college's accreditation in December for fiscal instability and faulty leadership, leaves Morris Brown in the precarious position of being ineligible for federal financial aid, the source of up to 70 percent of its revenue.

Despite being stripped of its accreditation and scrambling to pay up to $27 million worth of debts, the college is under no obligation to close. Nonetheless, nearly half of the 2,500 students who attended the college had already left before the spring semester, transferring wherever possible to public universities and other historically black colleges.

Now that Morris Brown has lost its appeal, too, it can no longer receive money from the United Negro College Fund, which has given it more than $25 million in the past decade. Nor can its remaining students receive federal grants and loans, a near assurance of a second exodus that may make it harder for the college to become financially sound and, subsequently, regain its accreditation.

"I'm leaving today," said Miranda Baldwin, 19, who came to Morris Brown to play flute and piccolo in the school's marching band, which was featured in the movie Drumline.

Baldwin is transferring to Georgia State University in Atlanta. "This is all very disappointing to me," she said. "But you know, my friends are going to other schools, too, so it looks like we're all going to have to start over."

Since its birth as an outgrowth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Morris Brown's mission has stayed largely unchanged: to remain accessible to students who may not be able to afford, or get into, other colleges. So even though its $10,000 tuition remains well under the national average of $18,273 for private colleges, up to 90 percent of its students still rely on financial aid, making it unlikely that many will be able to come back for whatever courses are offered next fall.

Fearing the loss of such an open institution, a number of churches, politicians and educators have rallied around Morris Brown since it lost its accreditation. Collection plates have been passed at Sunday services nationwide. Local radio stations have called on residents to head down to the campus and drop off donations.

Presidents of other historically black colleges voted to take money out of their own budgets to send to Morris Brown. And former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young made his appeal to the accrediting board directly, urging it to stand behind the college because of its commitment to educational access.

From the outpouring of support, the college managed to pay nearly half of its $10 million in overdue bills in a matter of months.

Yet the institution had little chance of winning its April appeal because the accrediting body only overturns a revocation when a college proves that the action was arbitrary, or procedurally flawed. Given that Morris Brown was cited for more than a dozen violations, including faulty recordkeeping, inadequate budgeting and poor administrative oversight, there were few doubts that the revocation would stand.

"This didn't happen just overnight," said Dr. James T. Rogers, executive director of the accrediting association's commission on colleges. "It came after years of reviewing the institution and identifying areas of weakness. In many cases they did not listen to what our committee members were saying to them."

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