Morris Brown Reopens $1 Million Richer, But Without Accreditation
By Tracie Powell
Atlanta’s Morris Brown College reopened its doors late last month to fewer than 150 students, without a marching band, football team or accreditation.
They are, however, $1 million richer. The million-dollar donation from the Tom Joyner Foundation, headed by the syndicated radio personality the foundation is named for, will help returning students pay outstanding balances so that they may continue their education at Morris Brown. Priority will be given to returning seniors, say school administrators.
But despite the recent generous donation, Morris Brown is still without accreditation, which means students cannot receive federal financial aid or transfer credits to other accredited institutions.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) stripped the college of its accreditation last winter, citing the school’s mounting debt, institutional ineffectiveness, poor record-keeping, and difficulties with processing financial aid. Most of the 1,500 enrolled students transferred to other colleges or universities when the school’s bid to appeal the SACS decision failed in April (see Black Issues, April 24).
Students and current administrators say there are no plans to close Morris Brown now or in the future, despite uncertainties about how the school will continue to operate.
At press time, there were 68 students on campus. Administrators say they expected to have between 150 and 200 students by the end of August when registration ended.
Seventeen professors were on hand to greet new students last month. Linda Myler, the school’s new chief operations officer and a 1969 alumna, said volunteer faculty may be needed depending on how many students registered. Current faculty and administrators are at Morris Brown “not because they can’t find jobs anywhere else, but because they are dedicated to the school’s survival,” she said. Myler added that the school, which has already reduced salaries and staff by 75 percent, was expecting to face another two rounds of layoffs in late August and at the end of September.
Current staff is at 71 in the administrative ranks, and 17 paid professors have been brought back. All of them are multitasking, says Myler who, in addition to her overall operations duties, is overseeing administration, the registrar’s office, student financial aid, student accounts, residential living, student activities and the student clinic.
“We’re taking it one year at a time,” Myler said. “A lot of students thought we were closed, but we’re continuing our program, it’s just smaller. I think we can do it if we stop licking our wounds and move forward. If we have a successful 2003 and 2004, then I think we can look beyond.”
LaShandra McQueen, a 1994 graduate, says she wants to return to her alma mater to teach because she says that students at Morris Brown now probably couldn’t get into school anywhere else, especially the freshmen. They need our help, she adds.
“I know that there are proprietary schools out there, for-profit schools, that are prepared and ready to take advantage of students like those at Morris Brown,” says McQueen, a transcript evaluator and adjunct professor at DeVry University’s Decatur, Ga., campus. “We have too many historically Black colleges and universities to allow this to happen. These students have problems getting started, and they need help just taking that first step. I can help them do that, and I’m willing to do that for free.”
Like other alumni, McQueen has donated money to help the school during its recent turmoil. But she is still aggravated because she doesn’t know what current administrators are doing to fix things. When she calls for updates, current employees are tight-lipped and scared, she said. Information released to the public should only come through or be cleared by Myler or interim President Leroy Frazier.
Tension is high at the private, historically Black, 122-year-old institution, Myler confirmed. “The tensions are here because everybody is a little nervous,” she said. “But as we move forward, it is getting better. And it will get better.”
Federal aid accounted for more than 70 percent of Morris Brown’s income. Outside of paid tuition, Morris Brown is relying on fund-raising to help keep the doors open.
Along with staff and salary reductions, Myler says fiscal controls have been implemented, administrators responsible for mismanagement are gone, record-keeping has improved after external audits, and another upcoming audit is due to be completed in October. The school also has a newly formed finance committee composed of board members and staff that meet weekly to review the college’s fiscal status.
Myler added that the school can’t fund 100 percent of tuition, something parents and students are being educated about. Students will have to pay some part of their education, she said, and they must rely on work-study, scholarships, nontraditional loans and donations to help defray some of that cost.
“It is a nervous climate,” she says. “The days of frivolous activities and people are gone. We’ve got a lot of strength here. On the whole, Morris Brown has been taken down by severe activities but this is a good time for the college to rebuild and start over. Right now we can truly offer our students one-on-one individual attention.”
Maria Paul, one of the nine freshmen who have signed up to attend classes this fall, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Morris Brown will survive.
“Education is what matters, not accreditation,” Paul told the newspaper. “I’m going to be very happy here.”
Paul, from West Palm Beach, Fla., said she — like many students — will complete a work-study program that will help cover her tuition costs. Classes started Sept. 2.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com