Accreditation Decision Deals Fisk University a New Setback

By Stuart, Reginald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Accreditation Decision Deals Fisk University a New Setback


Stuart, Reginald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Fisk University, struggling financially and losing students at a steady clip, lost more ground last month when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, placed Fisk on probation, a signal the agency is still worried about the viability of the school.

For SACS, an Atlanta-based accreditation body, putting a school on probation is the last step before it revokes accreditation altogether, a move that could endanger a school's eligibility for federal funding and support from many private donors.

In taking its action last month, the SACS Commission on Colleges rejected Fisk's most recent report on its efforts to address concerns raised by the agency in December 2010 and again in June 2011. While continuing the school's accreditation, the commission gave Fisk officials 12 months to address repeated concerns over the school's financial stability, governance and financial controls.

SACS also announced major actions involving other HBCUs:

It reaffirmed (for 10 years) the accreditation of Southern University of New Orleans, Elizabeth City State University, Alcorn A & M University and Jackson State University in Mississippi, Claflin University in South Carolina, the Morehouse College School of Medicine in Atlanta and Texas Southern University in Houston.

It removed Bennett College, the women's college in South Carolina, from probation and removed Tennessee State University from warning status.

It placed four schools on "warning" status, including Fort Valley State and Savannah State universities in Georgia, Edward Waters College in Florida and Jarvis Christian College in Texas.

It kept Stillman College in Alabama on "warning" status.

SACS officials took no action involving Florida A&M University with respect to the hazing-related death in November of a school drum major. The agency noted it was deferring any action in deference to an ongoing investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The decision to further downgrade Fisk, by far the most damaging for a high-profile private HBCU, came despite last-minute efforts by Fisk officials to convince members of the Commission on Colleges that progress was being made in addressing the agency's concerns.

In a presentation at the SACS meeting in Orlando, a Fisk delegation, lead by Fisk President Hazel O'Leary, made a detailed effort to put the school's situation in a better light, noting the decision by a Tennessee appeals court that the school could proceed with plans to raise $30 million in cash by selling an ownership stake in its treasured Alfred Stieglitz Collection of art and photographs. Word of the one-time infusion of cash apparently did not sway the commissioners who were interested in seeing evidence of long-term viability.

In the end, the agency reaffirmed its findings that Fisk has failed to "demonstrate compliance" with SACS' "core requirements" regarding financial stability and "comprehensive standards" regarding the qualifications of its administrative and academic officers to head the school, its track record of financial stability and its exercise of "appropriate control" over all its financial resources. …

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