Citing financial mismanagement, grads had been pushing for the president to resign.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Dr. Edison Jackson, Bethune-Cookman University’s sixth president, announced on Tuesday that he’s retiring. Local alumni told the Daytona Times that they’re pleased the president has decided to leave, but they still have concerns and questions about B-CU, particularly its financial stability.
Jackson’s resignation came shortly after a meeting on Tuesday afternoon between the university’s National Alumni Association and its board of trustees. Another meeting took place Tuesday night to discuss the terms of Jackson’s retirement.
The B-CU National Alumni Association recently had called for Jackson as well as Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Joe Petrock to resign citing financial mismanagement and lack of oversight.
Dorms and taxes
Alumni recently learned that the construction of new dorms estimated at $72 million had ballooned to $85 million. It is estimated that by the time the university pays the 40-year lease it will cost an estimated $306 million.
B-CU also lost nearly $18 million over the past fiscal year, according to tax returns. During the year covered by the most recent tax report, salaries also increased by nearly $8 million to $49.2 million.
It is also believed that the school’s endowment in recent years has shrunk from over $72 million to around $28 million.
In 2015, B-CU and Jackson were hammered with questions alumni, trustees and local media about the $72 million dormitory project and the school’s transparency.
Call for audit
“In my opinion, there has been serious financial mismanagement by the president. The Board of Trustees hasn’t adequately overseen and supervised the president. We alumni need to call for a forensic audit of the school’s finances,” Percy Willamson, a Class of 1978 alum told the Daytona Times.
“The Board of Trustees has failed to put in checks and balances of the presidential powers. Right now there aren’t any. The president has too many powers and can basically do what he wants,’’ Williamson added.
Slater: Restructure entire board
Volusia County/NAACP President Cynthia Slater attended the meeting of the alumni and trustees.
She spoke to the Times as an alumna of the school.
“The atmosphere of the meeting was that alumni are very upset with what we’re seeing, especially with the construction of the dorms and the financial hole it has put the school in. The main concerns are financial mismanagement and lack of oversight,” she explained.
“They continue to tell us that the school is in good financial standing, but it all seems like a farce.
The Board of Trustees failed to protect the university financially. I also believe that we need a restructuring of the entire Board of Trustees. I hope that in finding a next president that they consider someone open minded, sincere and bright.”
Dr. Evelyn Bethune, an alum and the granddaughter of B-CU founder Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, also is concerned about the school’s debt.
“As alumni, we are glad to see him go, but we are concerned since it’s a retirement and not a resignation, which means he could be getting some type of benefits package,” she said. “The way he left the school in debt that is troubling. My family think it’s time for him to go.’
“We started out as staunch supporters of Dr. Jackson. We thought he was with us and best for the institution, but that changed. The amount of debt and what it is going to take to get us back to the institutions standards is disturbing,’’ she remarked.
Jackson’s resignation came a day after the founder’s family and friends had gathered at B-CU to observe her birthday. She was born on July 10, 1875.
Along with financial concerns, Jackson had come under fire from alumni, students and the community for allowing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as the commencement speaker.
The invitation to DeVos, a strong proponent of school choice, to speak at the May 10 graduation at the Ocean Center sparked national attention. Alumni, students, pastors, the Florida NAACP or state and national education leaders could persuade Jackson to rescind the invitation.
Shavona Bouie, a mass communications major, was among the spring graduation class. While Bouie was not one of the graduates who turned their backs on DeVos while she was speaking, she was not in favor of the education secretary as the commencement speaker.
She told the Times on Wednesday, “I am interested to see what else comes out. I still believe there is more to it than we know. It’s obvious that there are financial troubles. The majority of the students wanted Dr. Jackson gone going back to graduation.’’
Jackson replaced Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed, who resigned in 2012 after seven years as president.
Reed’s resignation followed a tumultuous 2011, as indicated in a nine-part investigative series published from June through September in the Florida Courier, the Daytona Times’ sister paper, titled “Crisis at B-CU.”
The newspaper series detailed how B-CU was slapped with 13 state and federal lawsuits and administrative complaints, including legal actions filed by longtime professors, the former men’s basketball head coach and the former football head coach, and a former student.
Jackson came out of retirement in May 2012 to become B-CU’s interim president, replacing Reed. He was appointed as permanent president in May 2013.
This was his third presidency. He previously served as president of Compton Community College in Compton, Calif., and Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.