An anonymous donor has pledged $2.5 million to help financially strapped LeMoyne-Owens College meet an end-of-the-month deadline to pay its operating expenses, but with one catch: All of the board trustees at the historically Black college in Memphis have to resign. The caveat applies to more than 30 board members, excluding those representing alumni and churches.
“We haven’t really gotten all of the details regarding the grant yet,” says Sheila Fleming-Hunter, the college’s senior vice president. “But we are excited about it and grateful for the anonymous donor as we look forward to our end of the year requirements for our accreditation.”
If the trustees agree to relinquish their positions, the anonymous donor will give $1.5 million to the college by June 30, to be followed with another $1 million grant.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a member of the school’s board of trustees, made the announcement of the donation and its condition Friday.
“We must restore confidence in the minds of the corporations, foundations and citizens that the mission of this college is still legitimate,” Herenton said.
The school has until June 30 to raise $1 million to cover its operating costs. LeMoyne-Owens has only raised about half that amount through several fundraising events. Desperate to save the school, Herenton even offered to box former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, who so far has not responded to the challenge.
If LeMoyne-Owens does not meet its end of the month deadline, its accreditation will be in jeopardy. If it loses its accreditation, it will lose federal funding, which will be disastrous to its students, 90 percent of whom receive financial aid.
Herenton and board chair Robert Lipscomb have both said they will resign their seats. Now it’s up to the rest of the board to either do the same or come up with a strategy to raise the funds in a few days. Several trustees did not return calls to Diverse seeking comment.
The members of the board have not been asked to officially resign. However, in a specially called meeting last week, the trustees agreed that drastic changes were in order, according to an Associated Press article. Also last week, the college’s president, James Wingate resigned effective Sept. 1, mainly due to the school fundraising woes and its resulting $6 million debt.
On a brighter note, LeMoyne-Owen did award baccalaureate degrees to 150 graduating seniors in late May, which represented one of its largest graduating classes in recent years. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was the commencement’s keynote speaker.
LeMoyne-Owen is a private, historically Black Christian liberal arts institution. The American Missionary Association established the school in 1862 as an elementary school for freedmen and runaway slaves in Shiloh, Tenn. It moved to Memphis the next year. Following the withdrawal of federal troops from the city in 1866, it was destroyed by fire in race riots. Lincoln Chapel, as it was known then, reopened in 1867 with 150 students and six teachers, but it was then plagued with financial troubles. In 1870, Dr. Francis J. LeMoyne, a Pennsylvania doctor and member of the American Missionary Association, donated $20,000 to the school, which was renamed LeMoyne Normal and Commercial School in his honor.
The school became a junior college in 1924 and a four-year college six years later. In 1968, it merged with S.A. Owen Junior College, which had a shared purpose of providing career training through a liberal arts education in a Christian setting, and took on its current name.
The college has produced a legion of Black leaders over the years, including Herenton and Benjamin Hooks, the NAACP’s executive director from 1977 to 1992.
In the last decade or so, the college has seen its enrollment plummet, its debt rise and a number of presidents come and go. In December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — the region’s accrediting group — placed it on probation because of its monetary predicament.
— By Ibram Rogers
Reader comments on this story:
There are currently 5 reader comments on this story:
“Request for HBCU Board Resignations”I have never heard of this university, but still, I am puzzled. I am concerned that so many HBCU’s struggle financially, while boasting of the great Black leaders that have successfully matriculated. What are we doing? There are so many opportunities that we allow to fall by the wayside. We, African Americans, do so little to support these educational institutions. Our struggling institutions, secondary and post secondary, are truly an indication of what we value-not education. Unfortunately, as a whole, education is not even in the top five priorities of our people.
I pray for the day that we wake up and begin to recognize the correlation between our value system, our character, our education, and true success in life.
I pray for the day that I open my email and see an article that details the skyrocketing graduation rate of African Americans from high school, as well as college. I pray for the day that I am able to read about the millions of dollars that are flooding into the HBCU’s due to the overwhelming support of its alumni and friends. I just pray.-Tamiko Jordan
“Donor ousts Board of Trustees”I wish TO GOD that private donors would do the same across the country with many of the HBCU’s that suffer with “The Board of Dummies” who hinder growth and development of these colleges! At ALL of the HBCU’s that I’ve worked, the Board is made up of folks in the community that don’t know “squat” about how to make colleges grow and flourish and only tie the president’s hands or hire one of their frat buddies or “good ole’ boy” who has some political clout in the church or community. It’s about TIME FOR A CHANGE!
Bravo, private donor….-Marie
“remove ineffective leaders”As a faculty member of an HBCU where the Board is essentially a lame-duck operating at the behest of a domineering and plantation system thinking president, I think it is high time that someone brought this issue to the fore and said enough is enough. Like any critical thinker, I do have concerns/reservations about the motives of the donor (i.e. – who is this person, do they really appreciate the beauty of an HBCU, etc.). However, that concern is secondary to the need to remove ineffective leaders and board members who are pimping the black community through institutions that were designed to liberate.
“Hostage of an institution”As I read with interest the seemingly rejoicing note of LeMonye’s financial libera-
tion through the anonymous donor ONLY IF the entire Board resigns. I read the 4 comments indicating their sorrow and disappointment with the failure of Board leadership, one directly castigating “local community who don’t know anything” as well as those leaders who are “pimping the Community.” It would appear the issue which should be raised is two-fold, why the benevolent benefactor who has been knowlegeable all along of the school’s condition, wait to this ninth hour? Second,if the Board accepts they will be perceived as being “honorable leaders” if not, “totally insane.” For those who say “yes” so quick, consider this,”What is the unwritten, unverifiable agenda?” Why did he wait till the ninth hour? To save at any cost?? Makes you go hmmmm? -C. Menyweather-Woods
“Beyond the money issue”It is indeed with a heavy heart that I have been following the developments at LeMoyne-Owen College. I served as the Director of International Programs for the college and taught there for over 10 years. I have never seen a group of faculty and staff so dedicated. Not only do they have to work with so few resources, sometimes they buy with their own money materials needed to teach. However, as much as I am glad the a benefactor will be bailing the college out of its fiscal misery, I am not sure that this gesture as meaningful and well-intentioned as it may be, will serve as a panacea for solving the college’s problems. Presidents come and go and besides, they can only do so much. On the contrary, the faculty and staff are the backbone of the institution. Until the college (and by that I mean the new Board) decides to treat them with respect and consideration for equity, LeMoyne-Owen College may never be able to reach its full potential. By the way, it is a great school and I sincerely hope that they get over this hurdle as fast as possible. I wish my colleagues the very best.
“Leadership Accountability at HBCU’s”Regarding the recent turn of events at LeMoyne-Owen, we should be reminded of what happened at Morris Brown. If the rumors are true that Ted Turner made a similar offer (not especially the resignations of the Board of Trustees)to save that institution, if those responsible for its condition were held accountable for the gross fiscal mismanagement that resulted in its closing. Some would find it interesting to note that there was not on that trustee board a single member of the corporate community. It was, in fact, made up primarily of AME bishops and ministers, many of whom were not even interrogated concerning their knowledge of role in what happened there.
When will the AME Church stand up and hold itself responsible for providing a quality education experience for both faculty and students at these schools? How sad it is to note that the General Church only contributes $280,000.00 annually to each of these schools!-Eugene A. Eaves, Ph.D.
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Division Director, Division of Graduate Education
National Science Foundation
Dean of the College of Social Work
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering
The University of Tennessee Knoxville