We live in a world which respects power above all things. Power, intelligently directed, can lead to more freedom. Unwisely directed, it can be a dreadful, destructive force.– Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, “Last Will & Testament”
Let me establish my Bethune-Cookman College/University bonafides for some folks who believe that neither our associated family-owned media entities nor I are in positions to criticize the institution’s last two presidential administrations.
Dr. Bethune recruited my dad, a Morehouse College business administration graduate with a master’s degree in accounting from Alabama State University, from Claflin College where he was working in 1955. He became the school’s business manager under President Dr. Richard V. Moore before transitioning to the classroom, then ended his career some 25 year later under Dr. Oswald P. Bronson as the then-head of then-B-CC’s first internship program.
I was born in Daytona a year after Mom and Dad got there. The family lived in faculty housing before Dad built a home and moved his growing family into it.
B-CC has been a part of my life from the time I was born in 1956 until I left Daytona Beach for Atlanta and Morehouse College in 1974. In the interim, I grew up with and played with kids of other B-CC instructors, administrators, and staff from kindergarten through high school.
That included riding almost annually on the pickup truck with “Future B-Ceans” during the Homecoming parade. Some of those kids went on to attend B-CC. Some work there right now at all levels throughout the institution.
Every kid in Daytona looked up to B-CC students as “grown people.” Every college sports activity was a community event, especially football and basketball games.
Black kids in Daytona helped build Homecoming floats, and followed the then-all-male “Marching Men of Cookman” on the miles-long Homecoming parade route from the college though downtown Daytona Beach and back. Occasionally the “Men” would step on a kid who got too close, or somebody would get hit when he or she got in the way of a trombone player swinging his horn while marching.
There’s more, but you should get it by now. I’m a long-time interested non-alumnus stakeholder. I WANT THE SCHOOL TO SUCCEED.
And even if I wasn’t a stakeholder and didn’t care, we are a newsgathering organization. We have the First Amendment right to dig for the facts and ask hard questions.
Enough warm and fuzzies. Let’s get to the point.
Corruption of power
Tragically, there’s no better example of power “unwisely directed,” in the words of Dr. Bethune, than the administration of former B-CU prez Dr. Edison Jackson.
For those who don’t know the sorry details, Jackson is accused of putting the college in more than $300 million of debt without the permission of the institution’s Board of Trustees (BOT).
Jackson’s legal defense – and it is a potent one – is that the BOT signed off in advance, or ratified after the fact, everything he did. And he will have the board resolutions and minutes to prove it in court.
This week, another shoe dropped when the developer of another student housing project sued the institution for millions as a consequence of B-CU backing out of the deal.
To defend themselves, the BOT will surely claim (again) they didn’t know, even though the current interim president, Hugh Grimes, approved the letter of intent that helped move the deal forward.
(One initial question. How much student housing does B-CU really need?)
Ironically, the whole board of trustees structure is designed to “intelligently direct,” again in Dr. Bethune’s words, the power that’s inherent in the presidency of an organization like B-CU.
And as you read the list of names (and titles) below, it will be hard for a judge, a jury, or both to believe B-CU’s legal theory (with apology and all due respect to Malcolm [X] Shabazz):
“WE DIDN’T KNOW. We been had! We been took! We been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”
(Insert rolling-eye emoji here.)
The ‘Hall of Shame’
As the litigation lurches forward, this list (taken from the B-CU website) of doctors, lawyers, preachers, educators, politicians, entrepreneurs – and a former judge and college president or two – will be increased to include former trustees who are no longer on the board, but whose active collaboration or silence allowed Jackson and his alleged posse to go forward:
Chairperson Dr. Joe Petrock; 1st Vice Chair Dr. Nelson L. Adams, M.D.; 2nd Vice Chair Joyce Anne Hanks Moorehead, Esq.; 3rd Vice Chair Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr.; Secretary Joyce Odongo; Chaplain Rev. Annette Stiles Pendergrass.
Parliamentarian John A. Rogers, Esq.; Dr. J. F. Bryan IV; Dr. Linda F. Wells, Esq.
Dr. Michelle Carter-Scott; Rev. Thom Shafer; Rufus L. Wilson; Immediate Past Chair Rev. Dr. John W. Harrington.
At-large members Jennifer Q. Adams; Audley Coakley; Antonio T. “Tony” Coley; Dr. Joyce Cusack; Wayne A. Davis; Gregorio “Greg” A. Francis, Esq.; Dr. La-Doris McClaney; Dr. Lucille O’Neal; Belvin Perry Jr., Esq; Dr. Terry Prather; Rev. Catherine Fluck Price; Rafael A. Ramirez Jr.; Dr. Kent Sharples; M. Decker Youngman.
Ex-officio members: Student Government Representative Keshon Kindred; Dr. Gary Spencer; Paulette Monroe; B-CU President Judge Hubert L. Grimes; faculty representative Dr. Jeffery Haynes.
Many of these folks should be thankful they live in 21st-century America rather than in 12th-century Japan. These days they can only get sued for money or locked up in the case of a criminal offense.
In Japan, they would have been forced to commit ritual suicide under the samurai code as restitution for disgraceful conduct.
What should happen next?
Here’s a partial list of my suggested courses of action, generally in random order.
Instead of killing themselves, the current Board of Trustees should:
•Restructure the BOT bylaws in significant ways, including downsizing the number of board members to some odd number less than 15, including three alumni representatives appointed by the B-CU National Alumni Association (NAA) without BOT input or ability to veto the NAA’s choices.
•Start writing large checks to save the institution. There are actual and alleged millionaires on the BOT. B-CU has no problem that large amounts of money, properly administered, cannot fix. Administration of the funds is addressed below.
•Once these tasks are done, the entire board should resign en masse. Any further BOT service from them is tainted, and they cannot be trusted to fix what is wrong other than by making large donations and putting the new BOT in an optimal position to fix the mess. Drop your pencils and go home, people.
Interim President Hugh Grimes should:
•Make public all details of the purported “forensic audit” that he says is underway. A copy of the retainer agreement and the details of the scope of the audit should be immediately uploaded to the cookman.edu website.
•Settle the lawsuit filed by the NAA against B-CU, including payment of their attorney’s fees. This can be easily done in conjunction with restructuring the board as recommended above.
•Publicly issue a statement that he is removing his name from consideration as the next permanent president of the institution.
•Once these tasks are done, he should resign. Any further BOT service from him to the institution is tainted, and I take no personal pleasure in saying that. Here’s why.
I’ve known Hugh Grimes since he came to the Daytona Beach area some 30 years ago. His wife Daisy was informally related to me by marriage. I’ve respected his integrity and temperament as a judge, and I don’t question his desire to uplift the Black community, especially Black youth.
There are two main reasons Grimes can no longer serve.
First: He can no longer devote all of his waking hours to leading the fight for B-CU’s survival and eventual restoration. Unless this litigation is settled quickly, which seems highly unlikely as of this writing, he may be fighting for his own legal, financial, and professional survival as a consequence of his intimate involvement in many of the decisions and transactions that are subject to litigation.
He’s worn way too many “hats” at B-CU: as its general counsel; as its lead trial counsel in the Ray Brinson lawsuit; as Jackson’s personal attorney; as interim president; and now as the main mover in the institution’s lawsuit against Jackson and his alleged “mafia.”
Here’s what’s coming
Grimes has already been called as a witness in one lawsuit. He can expect to be either personally sued by Jackson or called as a witness; called again as a witness in the latest lawsuit involving the allegedly aborted student housing deal; be subject to scrutiny in any criminal, civil or administrative investigation; and be subject to scrutiny from the Florida Bar for possible conflicts of interest in his various legal representation of parties whose interests are now diametrically opposed to each other.
The second reason is a concept Grimes, as an experienced attorney and former judge, is very familiar with: “the mere appearance of impropriety.” That’s legal-speak for, “Do these actions pass the ‘smell test’ for the average person who otherwise doesn’t know the facts?” In my mind, if you have to ask that question, the appearance of impropriety probably already exists.
I don’t know if Grimes was involved as a co-conspirator with Jackson in the student housing deal, as B-CU may be forced to allege, or if he intentionally and illegally violated the attorney-client privilege and used “secret” information to sue Jackson, as Jackson will surely allege. Even if Grimes is never investigated or is completely cleared of all possible criminal, civil, or administrative violations, his credibility has been irreparably wrecked with a substantial number of B-CU stakeholders.
And that’s enough for him to step down and not be in the presidential running. Just as in the case of the board, Grimes cannot be trusted to fix what is wrong other than by making large donations.
The new BOT should:
•Review the terms and conditions of Grimes’s existing forensic audit and expand it if necessary to get to the bottom of the dorm deal’s financial transactions.
•Select a new interim president willing to sign a binding agreement that he or she will not be considered for the permanent position. The names of longtime professor Dr. Herbert “Shubie” Thompson and former Daytona Beach city agency head Percy Williamson have been mentioned. There are others who are qualified and may be willing to serve as a temporary “placeholder.”
•Select a reputable search firm and get on with the task of selecting a new permanent president.
•Settle all remaining litigation as quickly and “reasonably” as possible.
•Work closely with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the American Association of University Professors, and other professional organizations to finalize board restructuring, modify the bylaws, and establish board governance and presidential oversight protocols.
NOTE: The following recommendations are conditional upon the entire BOT restructuring and downsizing itself before resigning as indicated above.
The B-CU National Alumni Association should:
•Commit to saving the institution “by any means necessary.” That’s the threshold decision that must be made. If it’s not, the other recommendations contained in this column don’t matter.
•Call a press conference. Demand the resignations of the current BOT and Grimes as well as investigations by the Daytona Beach Police Department, the FBI, IRS, state and federal Departments of Education, and SACS as to possible criminal, civil, and administrative violations by B-CU’s leadership.
•Establish a fully transparent “shadow” endowment with on-demand online financial reports, managed by a small board and an experienced fund manager. The endowment can be used to pay the institution’s attorney’s fees or legal settlements as necessary.
•Establish a fully transparent online giving program to financially fund the shadow endowment.
Interested alumni should:
•Commit to saving the institution “by any means necessary.”
•Hold Dr. Richard V. Moore-style fundraising “Green Waves” wherever they go, among many other fundraising ideas. (If you don’t know about the Green Wave, ask somebody.)
Interested non-alumni should support the efforts of the new BOT, the NAA and interest alumni, especially financially.
From Dr. Bethune: Faith, courage, brotherhood, dignity, ambition, responsibility – these are needed today as never before.
Alumni are now forced to save the college from its dysfunctional leadership. Do they have the faith that they can do it? Do they have the courage to publically wash the institution’s proverbial “dirty laundry” – greed, corruption, pride, egocentrism, incompetence, fear – and deal with the aftermath?
Will alumni leadership emerge organically to assist in leading this institution through the dark days to come? Will the struggle to save B-CU be waged with dignity, humility and respect, as Dr. Bethune would desire, or with hatred, bitterness and recrimination? Will the current BOT humble themselves and financially contribute to an effort to save B-CU that they can’t control?
Do alumni still have the ambition to achieve Dr. Bethune’s institutional directive: “to rear increasing numbers of strong, purposeful men and women, equipped with vision, mental clarity, health and education”?
Time will tell.
One last recommendation. The change from “B-CC” to “B-CU” has been a disaster, perhaps symbolized by B-CU’s penchant for filing and defending lawsuits over the two past presidential administrations. The sooner the name “Bethune-Cookman UNIVERSITY is consigned to the “ash heap of history,” the better.
Time to come home, B-CC.
Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.