ITTA BENA, Miss. – A former Mississippi Valley State University student has filed a lawsuit over the school’s decision to cut his major.
Whitwell “Whit” Hamilton of Greenwood was pursuing a degree in the recording industry when the program was suspended in August 2009.
The major combined elements of music, business and sound production to prepare students for careers in the recording industry. Students also received hands-on experience editing and recording music in the B.B. King Recording Studio on campus.
Whitwell’s suit filed in Leflore County Circuit Court seeks reimbursement for tuition, room and board, travel to school, and lost wages as a result of delaying his graduation. Other former recording industry students have retained attorneys and are considering filing suits as well, according to a report in The Greenwood Commonwealth.
In an emailed statement to the newspaper, MVSU said the program suspension happened when the new administration under President Donna Oliver found that it would not be financially feasible to continue it because of state budget cuts.
Hamilton moved back from Atlanta just for the recording industry program, he said. Now $10,000 in debt, he has nothing to show for it, he said.
“I was really excited about it and here I am two and a half years into the program, and there is no program,” Hamilton said. “When we came in we were under the impression the program had full accreditation. We never questioned that.”
The program had been introduced after the previous accreditation visit by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2002.
The recording industry major had been approved by the state College Board but the required documentation was never sent to SACS. The program could have cost the entire university its accreditation during the next SACS visit in 2012.
Without accreditation, the university would not be eligible for federal financial aid programs. More than 90 percent of MVSU students utilize some form of federal financial aid.
To remain accredited, Valley would have had to set aside funds for the program, hire another faculty member and eventually try to upgrade space for the program.
“Protecting the integrity and accreditation of the institution, as well as meeting the needs and best interests of students, remain the priorities of MVSU,” the university e-mail stated. “This difficult decision was made in order to continue in these efforts.”
Many of the students were advised on changing their majors after the deletion of the program.
Attorney Hiram Eastland III, who represents Hamilton, said the school did not follow proper procedures laid out by the SACS for closing a program. The SACS policy statement on closing a program says the university should teach-out currently enrolled students or enter into a contract with another institution to let them finish their degrees.
“Suspending the program for this long and telling the students to start over with a new major is in complete contrast with the SACS requirements,” Eastland said. “Instead, these students can’t pursue the education or career that they chose when they came to Valley, and that’s wrong.”