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Down, But Not Out
Barber-Scotia is without accreditation, students and staff, but the college’s president believes there are brighter days ahead
By Marlon A. Walker

For the past month, Dr. Mable Parker McLean has been multi-tasking her way through a familiar post at Barber-Scotia College. It has been a job that most people, let alone an 83-year-old woman, would find a bit daunting.

But Parker McLean has become a savior of sorts for her struggling alma mater, which parted ways with its former president, Dr. Gloria Bromell-Tinubu, in a bid to regain accreditation.

“I’ve been working a two-and-a-half full-time job,” Parker McLean says. “But I believe in what we can do based on what we have done.” The president spends a large part of each day answering phones and shuffling people in and out of her office.

Reports have swirled for weeks about the school firing all but one of its employees, which Parker McLean confirms. The decision was made by the college’s board of trustees, which didn’t see a need for employees since no students are currently enrolled. The lone remaining employee had been out of town for several weeks attending to a sick mother. Plans to focus the school on entrepreneurship and business were scratched, too, Parker McLean says, because other issues currently require the school’s attention.

The 139-year-old historically Black institution has been on a downward spiral since the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools revoked its accreditation in June 2004. That move came after school officials revealed that 27 students in their adult education program were awarded degrees without completing the requirements. Bromell-
Tinubu, who officially took over as the school’s president the month after it was stripped of its accreditation, quickly went to work to put the school in order. Professors had been complaining to the state that they were not being paid on time, and the city was owed about $75,000 for unpaid utility services. Paying the utility bills was one of Bromell-Tinubu’s first orders of business upon becoming president. Not long after arriving on campus, she hand-delivered a check to the city to clear the debt (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Aug. 26, 2004).

Bromell-Tinubu’s resignation came as the college, which had about 750 students enrolled for the 2003-2004 school year, prepared to face its first semester with no students enrolled.

“We’re trying to get the institution together,” Parker McLean says as to why no students will be present in the term that begins in January. “We want the school to repair itself without limping.”

Last August, the Associated Press reported that students at the college were considering whether to transfer, since the school had lost its accreditation. A loss of accreditation means that a school loses its ability to receive federal financial aid. About 90 percent of Barber-Scotia’s students at the time depended on some sort of financial aid for tuition.

The college recommended students seeking transfer apply to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.; Livingstone College in Salisbury; the University of North Carolina-Charlotte; or the Raleigh-based Shaw University, according to the AP report.

As of last fall, JCSU had received between 30 and 50 transfer applications from Barber-Scotia students; UNCC admissions officials said they had received 11 applications and admitted six students from the college.

Parker McLean is fighting for the school she first attended as an undergraduate in 1939. At the time, Barber-Scotia was a junior college. Parker McLean held various positions at the school before becoming its first female president in March 1972. She’s returned to the helm twice since she initially left in 1988 — first on an interim basis in 1994, which led to a full year as president again during the 1995-1996 school year, and when she was asked to serve as interim president in November.
“I believe there’s a need for a small college in a small town in the South,” she says.

Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges at SACS and a former college president herself, says the school is still able to gain accreditation in the future.

“They have to reapply and go through the steps all over again,” she says. “[A school] must show compliance with all of our core requirements and standards.”

In the weeks following the staff exodus, Parker McLean says local alumni and community members have become involved on a voluntary basis, answering phones and providing maintenance for the school’s buildings. Most of the work has been left to her and the board. And at 83, she feels her age will not hinder the school’s progress.

“I consider my role that of providing whatever confidence and strength that my being here can give,” she says. “It’s about remembering the debt that all of us owe somewhere. There are times when many people get a case of convenient amnesia.

“But I guarantee — and I know from experience — it does pay off,” Parker McLean says.

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