Johnson C. Smith University is facing new questions about its money management after an accrediting body placed the school on probation, citing two examples of potential irregularities.
Findings by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) have not yet been made public, but in the course of JCSU’s normal accreditation process, SACSCOC cited two areas of concern – financial stability and financial aid audits.
The SACSCOC board will appoint a committee to visit the campus next fall to review the school’s status in response to questions raised. After that time, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees will decide whether to renew JCSU’s accreditation – a key decision for any school that accepts federal financial aid.
The latest development renews questions raised in 2015 when a former member of JCSU’s Board of Trustees accused the school’s president, Ronald Carter, of financial mismanagement. The former trustee, Talmadge Fair, said Carter was hiding serious financial problems at the private university. (Fair was later expelled from the board, and Carter, months later, announced his pending resignation.)
Then as now, JCSU officials deny suggestions of mismanagement. In a statement sent to local media on Tuesday, the school blamed its most recent problem on a “disclosure format” in its current audit.
“The University acts with integrity, responsibility, reliability and trust in everything we do,” the JCSU statement read. “We are not daunted by the denial of our reaffirmation and see this as an opportunity for continuous quality improvement which will result in even greater institutional effectiveness.”
In response to a question from Qcitymetro, the university said the problem involved an audit footnote and released the following statement.
“For the last two years, we have prepared one particular footnote in an identical fashion. This year, our auditors insisted on a change to this format with the inclusion of an additional sentence. The University cautioned that it was misleading, as it was contrary to the financials presented and a clean audit. Given the deadline to submit the audit to SACSCOC, the University had no choice but to submit the audit with the additional disclosure. This contradiction prompted a number of questions that could not be answered. Therefore, the SACSCOC board could not decide in favor of our reaffirmation of accreditation until a Special Committee can be convened to visit our campus to get the questions answered for themselves in Fall 2018.”
The latest questions arise at a time when JCSU is preparing for a leadership change.
On January 1, Clarence “Clay” Armbrister, a lawyer who ran a private prep school in Philadelphia, will replace Carter as JCSU’s president. While Armbrister has extensive financial experience – former chief operating officer at Temple University, former managing director of the Philadelphia School District, and former Philadelphia city treasurer – critics point out that he has never held the top position at a college or university.
The decision to place JCSU on probation was one of more than 150 actions taken this week by the Atlanta-based SACSCOC, which wrapped up its annual meeting in Dallas.
Among the actions taken:
— Bennett College, a private HBCU for women in Greensboro, retained its accreditation but saw its probation extended for an additional 12 months. As in the case of JCSU, SACSOC cited concerns relating to Bennett’s financial stability.
Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins released a statement saying that, while the school’s financial challenges are real, Bennett has seen an increase in both fundraising and student enrollment.
“We have much work to do, but we remain steadfast in our efforts to ensure Bennett College continues serving as a beacon of hope for young women of color for generations to come,” Dawkins said in the statement. “I am proud of the progress we have made in the past year and look forward to the college making even greater strides in the ensuing year.”
— SACSOC also raised concerns about the financial stability of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.