For many, it was bad enough for US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to be announced as Bethune-Cookman University’s 2017 commencement speaker. It got worse when officials taunted protestors by publishing photos of half-filled boxes of petitions to the school calling for her invitation to be rescinded.
And then it got ugly during the commencement ceremony when former BCU President Edison Jackson told graduates that they had to choose between decorum and a diploma.
And then it became despicable when officials tallied the official number of commencement protestors at 20, more than 24 hours after news cameras on nearly every major network filmed dozens of graduates booing, heckling, turning their backs and disrupting the event.
What we now know is that BCU administration has a bad habit of going from bad to worse, and then to unbelievable insults of the general public’s intelligence. It was bad to know that the school entered a faulty dorm development deal which could bankrupt the school.
It was worse when news broke that the school simultaneously was in a quiet partnership to help support an off-campus construction deal which could cost the university more millions if the project is derailed.
And now we find out that Dr. Jackson allegedly lied about enrollment numbers as a part of the scheme to foster these deals.
Newly appointed Chair Michelle Carter-Scott, who has served on the board since 2012, said trustees were not always provided with complete and accurate information.
“None of us in the board went in thinking that the administration or the university would mislead or lie or send us off in a direction where (that) was not the way we should go,” Carter-Scott said. “We asked questions. We were given answers. And we found that it just wasn’t accurate, what we were given.”
The acts are bad, but the timing behind their public release and the details of how badly the board mismanaged its oversight follows a troubling history of poor executive reaction. The board can’t claim ignorance of Dr. Jackson’s alleged wrongdoing – at least two board members repeatedly warned the board about inconsistencies, which by vote, removal, and silence it repeatedly rejected.
BCU’s bad decisions that are more than a trend, but a part of doing business. The general counsel who oversaw all of the bad construction deals in question, who oversaw trustee removals, pay bonuses for personnel, and financial statements going back to at least three years is Hubert Grimes, now BCU’s interim president.
Bethune-Cookman faces multiple lawsuits, accreditation inquiry and plummeting confidence among alumni, and all of the people responsible for BCU’s historically bad oversight remain drawing checks or other benefits as a result of incompetence or possible criminal wrongdoing.
It is those very kinds of bad-to-worse choices Bethune-Cookman seems to have perfected over the last five years. Without any major changes, the school will run out of years before it runs out of awful decisions to make.