Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Free at Last: After Nearly Three Years of State Investigations, Central State University Is Exonerated of Allegations of Fiscal Malfeasance

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Free at Last: After Nearly Three Years of State Investigations, Central State University Is Exonerated of Allegations of Fiscal Malfeasance

Article excerpt

Free At Last: After nearly three years of state investigations, Central State University is exonerated of allegations of fiscal malfeasance

WILBERFORCE, Ohio -- Nearly three years of investigations by four state agencies into the actions of former Central State University officials failed to produce any evidence of criminal wrong doing, leaving the chairman of CSU's board of trustees wondering to what degree race played a part in triggering and extending the probe.

"At what point in this process is it fair for me to ask the question, `Was race a factor in all this?'" says CSU board chairman Frederick Ransier III.

A grand jury in Greene County, where the state's only public historically Black university is located, found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by former CSU officials in the school's financial and political crisis of the mid-1990s, according to assistant county prosecutor Steve Wolaver. Grand jurors declined to indict anyone, and the investigation is closed, Wolaver says.

Wolaver adds that investigators from the Ohio Highway Patrol, Ohio Ethics Commission, the Auditor of State, and the Ohio Inspector General's office can't account for every dollar CSU spent because of poor record-keeping and the absence of financial documentation.

"There was an attitude in prior CSU administrations of, `We're going to do it any way we want to do it, and records be damned,'" he says.

But in a probe that lasted nearly three years, investigators "found no evidence of anyone lining their own pockets," Wolaver says, adding that representatives from each of the investigating agencies testified before the grand jury.

CSU President John Garland says he is gratified with the grand jury's decision, which he says "confirmed my own observations" that the rumors of university, officials diverting public money to benefit themselves were untrue. Garland came to Central State in August 1997 as part of rebuilding efforts and was not a target of the criminal probe.

"We are closing the last chapter on the problems the university has endured over the last three-and-one-half years," Garland says.

Garland says media reports of the allegations have inflicted immeasurable damage to the institution that located across the street from Wilberforce University, the private, separate HBCU. Central State was forced to terminate 19 faculty members and saw its enrollment plummet from more than 3,200 in 1992 to about 1,000 this year as a result of the critical state reports, legislators' threats to close or merge the school, and the forced shutdown of poorly maintained dormitories.

Ransier called the grand jury's decision "just another indication that this has all been an overreaction based on misinformation." And the impact of that overreaction, Ransier says, "has been devastating" to the school.

"Several state agencies have investigated this institution like no other university has been investigated in the history of the state of Ohio, and perhaps the country," he adds. "Innocent people were harmed" by the crisis, including the terminated faculty and staff, and the students who left amid reports the school would not survive.

"Some of those students may never have returned to college. Their lives are changed forever," the board chairman says.

Many faculty and students hold the view that the crisis was manufactured by state officials and legislators in an attempt to shut down the HBCU. …

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