In March, two Bethune-Cookman University stakeholders took dramatically different positions on how to save the private HBCU campus plagued by lawsuits, debts and bad press. Michael Cantu, a Republican candidate for Florida’s House of Representatives, said in a Florida Courier editorial that the school should consider annexation into the State University System of Florida.
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.
Sheila Flemming-Hunter, co-chair of Concerned Constituents Committee for Bethune-Cookman University, responded in the Courier, suggesting that annexation would be the last thing Bethune-Cookman should want or need.
First, why would the state sit idly by and “Bethune-Cookman University be forced to close its doors….”? The resources Cantu contemplates using at that time could be accessed now to save it as a private entity.
Second, we have seen many examples where public/private ventures are implemented to ensure the best for the people who would be most affected. The state of Florida could develop a new model, like what was done to save the insurance companies and the automobile industry not long ago in our country.
But there’s one thing Cantu and Dr. Flemming-Hunter agree upon — Bethune-Cookman’s board of trustees needs to be removed. But can the members be thrown out?
The short answer is not without a significant, highly unlikely action from the State of Florida, which probably has zero interest in drawing the race-based criticism such a move would earn, or in setting a bad precedent for other private, independent colleges in the state.
So how exactly can a full board of trustees be removed? In the public sector, it is pretty easy at the hands of a governor. Gov. Matt Bevin dismissed the entire board at the University of Louisville and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley removed South Carolina State University’s board of trustees in 2015, with scandal spurring both gubernatorial mass firings.
It is far more difficult with private schools. Ghost HBCUs like Morris Brown College, Knoxville College and Barber-Scotia College have all but closed through accreditation loss and almost no student enrollment — but there are no public laws against a board of trustees driving a private institution into the ground with bad decisions on spending and leadership.
There are a handful of options which could lead to, but not ensure the removal of Bethune-Cookman’s board of trustees for its bad management of the institution.
The State of Florida could prohibit Bethune-Cookman from doing business based on violations of state business practices. But as BCU has not defrauded students, placed them under threat of harm, or violated state laws, it is an impossible option to consider.
Bethune-Cookman is on probationary status with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges for finance and governance issues. Even if SACSCOC were to revoke BCUs accreditation tomorrow, it would mean nothing in an effort force the board of trustees to be removed.
Paine College is a recent example of SACSCOC voting to revoke accreditation, and while under judicial review following a lawsuit from the institution and fully accredited, much of the same board which presided over the school approaching the brink of closure remains in place.
States and accreditors do not say who is allowed to run a school and do not judge the effectiveness of school governance; so there is no remedy in these areas for perceived incompetence and potential criminality among the board.
But what does it say when Bethune-Cookman, with its decades of high performance within invaluable academic programs, tremendous economic impact in Daytona Beach and its rich tradition of professional training for African Americans, needs its entire board to be removed in the name of survival — and virtually no one can do anything to make it so?