Two HBCUs in Tennessee are in danger of losing their accreditation unless they change their operations. Tennessee State University has a year to meet “measures of institutional effectiveness” and Fisk University must address its budgetary issues in order to maintain accreditation. Both are in Nashville.The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission (SACS) on Colleges on Dec. 7 gave Tennessee State a year to address “core requirements” that the whole institution must have in place and “comprehensive standards” that apply to specific departments and programs.
Officials at Tennessee State are not surprised with the ruling, saying they knew that achieving reaccreditation would be a difficult task for the school.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Peter Nwosu, a special assistant to the university president who oversees institutional planning, told the Tennessean newspaper. “But I’m very upbeat because we’ve really made progress.”
Not all staff at Tennessee State is as upbeat as Nwosu. Mary Ann Asson-Batress, a biology professor at the school, said the news is a hit to the university’s image.
“Obviously, this has a great impact on our reputation. Most universities would never get themselves into this position,” Asson-Batress told the Tennessean. “They’ve had two years to deal with (the compliance problems). We’ve been warning them about it.”
Fisk, on the other hand, only has six months to address its financial problems. Fisk President Hazel R. O’Leary says the school is trying hard to raise funds to remove the warning status from its reaccreditation.
“Fisk’s work to improve financial stability is the key to removing the SACS warning,” O’Leary said in a statement. “The path to financial stability includes three elements: a successful outcome with each annual fundraising effort; increasing Fisk’s net assets base, which requires that Fisk increase its endowment; and a clean financial audit.”
Without accreditation, requests for financial aid may be denied. Credits in progress may not transfer. Enrolled students may lose money. Degrees could become worthless.
Among the measures taken by the university’s board is the approval of a sharing agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art for a half-interest in the school’s Stieglitz Collection in exchange for $30 million.
However, that art deal has been much disputed. While the university wants to use the sale of an interest in the collection to improve university finances, a Tennessee judge believes that the majority of the proceeds from such arrangement should be applied differently.
Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that Fisk could sell a 50-percent share in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Arkansas, for about $30-million. However, the judge said the school could only keep $10-million from the sale, with the remainder put into an endowment to maintain the collection.
The school says it will appeal the judge’s ruling, as the profit from the sale is paramount to its financial plan filed with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to retain accreditation.