Bethune-Cookman University Board Chair and former circuit court judge Belvin Perry held a town hall meeting on campus last week to clear the air about public criticism of the board following the abrupt resignation of former president E. LaBrent Chrite.
His goal was to squash rumors and instill confidence about the board’s ability to lead the financially and culturally embattled private HBCU. His remarks did anything but.
According to Perry, the board derailed an attempt to adjust its philanthropic naming rights policy for facilities from $5 million to $ 1 million. A request from Chrite to help make a documentary about school founder Mary McLeod Bethune was denied, an effort to promote an executive was denied, and recommendations for board appointments made by the president were denied.
Just a surface-level view of the items mentioned by Perry, namely the personnel management and marketing issues, could be easily interpreted by BCU’s accreditor as violations of its ‘administration and organization’ section, and specifically the charge of a chief executive officer.
1. The institution has a chief executive officer whose primary responsibility is to the institution. (Chief executive officer) [CR]
2. The chief executive officer has ultimate responsibility for, and exercises appropriate control over, the following:
a. The institution’s educational, administrative, and fiscal programs and services. (CEO control)
b. The institution’s intercollegiate athletics program. (Control of intercollegiate athletics)
c. The institution’s fund-raising activities. (Control of fund-raising activities)
And then there’s Perry’s comment on how the institution reversed course on its own malfeasance with hiring, board sustainability, finance, and management, almost in spite of Chrite’s presence.
What folks fail to realize is that the team we have in place, along with the board, was responsible for 95% of what happened. Yes, Dr. Chrite played his role. But the team was already here. The plan to get us into the black was a plan that was approved by the Board of Trustees long before Dr. Chrite got here.”
Day-to-day operations are being managed by an executive vice-president, Karen Bearden, who as a former member of Kentucky State University’s board of trustees faced her own controversy for interference and conflict of interest. She now reports to a board that suggests Chrite had very little to do with its accreditation sanction being lifted last year and other positive outcomes.
It is clear that no one on the BCU board wants the school to fold, and recognizes that it still has many miles to go before the school reaches the real level of stability being currently misrepresented by its members in the aftermath of Chrite’s departure.
But there should be no doubt that the culture of arrogance and self-indulgence that led the university into bad contracts, public battles with students and alumni, multi-million dollar lawsuits, and a historic drop in public morale and confidence is still very much in place. All signs point to the board plotting a course to select Bearden as its next president or a similar proxy who will carry out a pro-board agenda that, by its nature and as depicted through recent years of evidence, is inherently against the survival of the university.