Finger Pointing At Tuskegee
Top level administration officials are engaged in finger pointing at Tuskegee University. The finger pointing was triggered by a warning notice from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission (SACS).
Tuskegee University President Brian L. Johnson is pointing his finger at former interim President Matthews Jenkins.
Dr. Jenkins’ finger is pointing back towards Johnson.
Jenkins served as interim president of the historic Alabama university for eight months following the sudden resignation of President Gilbert Rochon in October 2013. Jenkins’ watch ended last June when the Tuskegee Board of Trustees selected Johnson to serve as president.
Johnson contends that Jenkins is responsibility for the defective five year report filing. He first made this allegation in a letter to the Tuskegee University Community dated June 14, 2015, then again in a letter to the Tuskegee University community dated June 17, 2015. Unlike the June 14 letter, Johnson did not sign the June 17 letter.
Internal memos received by Cascade Press indicate that Jenkins prepared the five year report “covering 37 areas at the university.” This report was delivered to SACS March 2014.
According to one source, in September 2014 both “Tuskegee University and the SACS accreditation liaison were informed – in writing – of the 7 outstanding standards, and the University had until April, 2015 to submit a ‘Compliance Report’ providing answers to the issues raised by the reviewers for each of the 7 standards.”
If this timeline is correct, Johnson had six months to respond to 7 outstanding matters. According to our sources, Johnson approved a response to the 7 items on SACS’s follow-up list “in April, 2015” and learned in “June 2015” that the university’s compliance report was defective.
In the university’s June 17, 2015 correspondence to the Tuskegee University Community, Johnson again deflected his responsibility for failing to navigate the university through the 7 outstanding standards.
However, the June 17 letter does acknowledge that the subsequent review of the university’s responses to the 7 outstanding standards , “identified additional areas including and beyond the 5 year report that triggered a ‘public disclosure’ warning.”
This acknowledgment from the office of communication, Public relations and Marketing indicates that the responses filed by Johnson triggered SACS to look at additional areas of concern.
Johnson proposes to remedy the issues raised by SACS by meeting with his team bi-weekly until the university submits its report in April 2016.
Johnson’s predecessor, Jenkins thinks that Johnson and his bi-weekly team meeting approach is not going to get the job done.
“I had a consultant, Dr. Luther Williams, who had successfully managed the SACS requirements at Tuskegee for the past ten years… When the new president came aboard, he terminated the SACS consultant and all the other consultants I had hired in critical areas on campus, saying: ‘he did not believe in consultants… I hope this sheds light on this and other gross distortions that have been floating around out there,” Dr. Jenkins said.
According to Luther Williams, “It is rare that a team of diverse SACS reviewers will not find some deficiencies – real or apparent – within a full institutional submission; the tack is to substantively and comprehensively address each of them via the ‘compliance report!'”
Williams believes that the bulk of the report he prepared under Jenkins’ administration “must have met with positive compliance” because “both the Fifth Year Interim QEP Report and most of the standards are not among the 7 cited.”
Williams seems to suggest that Johnson botched very minor details in his supplemental report. If true it raises five questions.
One, If Johnson could not adequately respond to minor questions, does he have the competence to handle the expanded inquiry that his defective responses triggered?
Two, if it takes Johnson meeting bi-weekly with a team to prepare a proper disclosure to SACS, could someone with more experience be able to handle this matter in less time?
Three, while Johnson is devoting a full year of bi-weekly meetings on SACS who will be fulfilling the other duties of the president’s office like fund raising and lobbying the Alabama Legislature for increased funding?
Four, Did Johnson’s inexperience expand the scope of SACS’ audit?
Five, Has Johnson made effective use of his time since he came aboard July 2014?
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org