JUST THE BEGINNING

B-CU employees will endure pay cuts, unpaid furloughs, and layoffs as Interim President Hubert Grimes ‒ who is supposed to resign next month ‒ takes drastic action.

B-CU
FLORIDA COURIER FILES
After almost 90 years of continuous operation as Bethune-Cookman College (now University), the institution is now facing an existential threat to its continued existence.

BY ANDREAS BUTLER FLORIDA COURIER

DAYTONA BEACH ‒ Bethune-Cookman University, which is facing multi-million-dollar lawsuits, the possible loss of its accreditation and dissension within its governing Board of Trustees, released a letter on Tuesday and a video on Wednesday featuring Interim President Hubert Grimes announcing pay cuts, unpaid furloughs and layoffs at the beleaguered institution.

The four-minute, 25-second video opens with a shot of a digital newspaper with “B-CU Good News Report” as its headline, with “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” playing in the background.

In it, Grimes describes what he calls “definitive steps” to correct deficiencies that led to B-CU being placed on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, popularly referred to as SACS.

Key to institutional health

Accreditation can determine eligibility for federal financial aid and whether B-CU graduates would be qualified to take licensing exams for varied professions such as law and medicine.

Last year, SACS flagged B-CU’s lack of performance in what it called “core values and standards” including integrity, governing board characteristics, financial resources and control of finances, and gave the university a limited time to fix those issues. An interim review of B-CU’s accreditation status is expected to happen in the next 90 days.

“I assure you that we are wholly committed to implementing the necessary corrective actions to address these areas of concern,” Grimes said.

“B-CU wasn’t put on (SACS) probation because of our academic programs. Our students remain eligible for financial aid, and 200 graduates continue to be prepared for graduate programs and ready to compete in the work force,” stated Grimes.

Blame and accomplishments

In answering his own question “How did we get there,” referring to the school’s precarious situation, Grimes mentioned a disastrous dorm deal that wasn’t properly vetted; an overstatement “or misinterpretation” of student enrollment numbers that were actually lower than what the university disclosed; and the university operating at a deficit for the last three years.

Grimes then went through a list of what seemed to be accomplishments with regard to meeting SACS’s core values and standards under his administration. These include implementing zero-based budgeting; reducing personnel costs; reorganizing and reclassifying key positions in Fiscal Affairs and aligning them with what he called “core functions of financial management.”

Hiring consultants

He also cited revised fiscal policies, processes, and controls, as well as the school hiring “market-leading advisory services” to help manage its mound of debt, restore its formerly high credit ratings, develop a financial restructuring strategy, and train trustees.

Grimes also mentioned implementation of campus-wide cost-saving measures, including an operational budget freeze. He cited “reduced personnel costs,” but did not specifically mention pay cuts, furloughs, and layoffs that he set out in a letter to B-CU employees the day before.

Most changes are expected to take place today, Jan. 18. Staffing levels, departments and operations are also being restructuring, and more cuts may be coming.

More to come

“While we have made adjustments to the university’s organizational makeup over the past several months, there is a need to make additional and substantial changes in order to save and restructure the university for longterm sustainability,” Grimes wrote in Tuesday’s letter.

Grimes didn’t detail how many jobs would be eliminated or the extent of pay cuts. In the video, he states, “These actions move us closer to regaining compliance and a stronger operating Bethune-Cookman University overall.”

Meanwhile, Grimes asked for support while changes are being made. As a flying drone shoots aerial video of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s statute on the campus, Grimes intones, “My friends, I hope that you will join us in prayer, join us in believing and having faith that we can get through this particular season.

“Has it been a challenge? Yes. Have we learned from this process? Absolutely. And we will continue to grow stronger provided that we have the support of Wild cat Nation in so doing,” he concluded.

The video ended with B-CU asking for help to raise $7.5 million by June 30, 2020 to keep its doors open, with “more details to come” according to the video.

Major challenges

B-CU is now more $150 million in debt and facing several lawsuits. Its Fitch ratings, which give a measure of its creditworthiness, has been downgraded to junk-bond status, with the last rating just a month ago marking the third straight year of a downgrade.

Grimes’s update comes amid a bitter rift between himself and Board of Trustees (BOT) Chairman Dr. Michelle Carter-Scott, and of protests and recriminations from other B-CU stakeholders.

Just days earlier, B-CU’s National Alumni Associated marched and protested, calling for all members of the BOT to resign. Alumni also want to see a forensic audit alleged commissioned by the BOT which has never been publicly released.

A day before the NAA protest, Trustee Belvin Perry, a retired circuit court judge, also called for Carter-Scott’s resignation. Perry blasted Scott for allegedly hindering Grimes from doing his job.

Last year, Grimes agreed to stay at B-CU as interim president until February, when a national search of the university’s next president is expected to be completed.

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