BY MICHAEL CANTU / GUEST COMMENTARY
It is no secret to residents of the Daytona area that Bethune-Cookman University has recently been beset by troubling financial difficulties. What is far less well known is just how dire the situation at the college really is.
Speaking to the Daytona Beach News-Journal (daily newspaper) about another recently unveiled financial discovery, former university trustee Johnny McCray, Jr. states that “I think that (the uncovered obligation) seriously puts us in danger of closing.”
A local disaster
Folks, that one line should send chills down the spine of anyone who lives in the Daytona area. If B-CU were indeed to shut its doors for good and file for bankruptcy, it would be an unmitigated catastrophe for our already-struggling area.
Even for those residents who have never had any personal relationship or attachment to the university, the negative effects of a hypothetical B-CU closure would be felt by everyone living in Daytona Beach.
Besides the grievous cultural and historical losses such an outcome would incur, the shuttering of B-CU would generate crisis-level damage to the city’s already weak economic base.
Daytona is already suffering greatly from low wages, a weak tax base, and high living expenses. What happens to that picture when you take away one of the city’s largest private employers? The effects of that would be the “Fun Coast” equivalent of a Rust Belt city’s manufacturing plant shutting down.
To our benefit
Given these facts, it is to every Daytonan’s benefit that Bethune-Cookman University continues existing as a sound educational institution. Ideally, this would mean sorting out all the current financial issues by securing reasonable concessions from the aggrieved creditors, and permanently getting rid of the entire Board of Trustees that allowed such incompetence under its watch.
I really hope the school’s current troubles end in the manner described. But what happens if things don’t exactly go that way? What happens if B-CU cannot continue making payments on that $306 million dorm and the developer sues for nonpayment? What happens if Heron Development Group is awarded millions in damages stemming from the botched MLK Lofts deal?
What happens if the courts throw out the school’s lawsuits against the past president and other officials, stripping the university of its best defense against the payment claims of its creditors? What happens if, due to all of these troubles, Bethune-Cookman loses its accreditation as a valid institute of higher learning?
Any one of these possibilities by itself would dramatically increase the odds of the school closing. My friends in the legal community tell me that based on what has been publicly released, there is a good chance of all four outcomes happening.
What are the alternatives?
What can be done if the worst-case scenario does come to pass? Is there any way to preserve Bethune- Cookman and its contributions to our area if its troubles prove too much for it?
I believe that there is a solution, an option of last resort if all else goes against the school.
I propose that if, in the event that Bethune-Cookman University is forced to close its doors due to the aforementioned financial woes, the university itself can be saved by transferring both its assets and liabilities to the only entity capable of using the former while simultaneously getting rid of the latter: the State University System of Florida.
If Bethune-Cookman the private entity is forced to close due to financial mismanagement, Bethune-Cookman the place of learning can still live on as a public institution of higher education.
The state of Florida would ultimately benefit by adding a renowned HBCU to its list family of world-class universities, better enabling it to attract a diverse selection of the world’s best and brightest young minds to this great state.
Bethune-Cookman itself would benefit by continuing to exist as a distinct university, instead of being shut down and sold off piece by piece to satisfy the demands of powerful creditors.
And the people of the Daytona area would benefit by being able to continue enjoying the history, culture, and economic benefits of B-CU, keeping a rather large pillar of the yearlong local economy from collapsing and taking much of the area’s recent growth along with it.
I can help
Should the situation become necessary, and in the event that I was to be elected to Florida House Seat 26, the citizens of this area can rely on me not only to file the legislation necessary to save the university in the manner so described, but also to effectively fight hard for and sell this plan to Tallahassee’s conservative majority.
Bethune-Cookman University is a valuable and important part of the Daytona community through contributions cultural, historical and economic. If you live in Daytona or the surrounding area, odds are that this university has benefited your life in ways either seen or unseen.
Let us recognize and protect this important local institution by having a plan to save it, should worst come to worst.
Michael Cantu is a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, District 26 (Daytona Beach). His commentary was originally posted on Facebook.