A day after nearly Wilberforce University’s entire student body protested about on-going problems on campus and threatened to withdraw, top administrators said Thursday the school has been working to resolve their issues to keep the nation’s oldest historically black university open.
University President Patricia Hardaway and administrators addressed the students’ concerns at her off-campus home where students were not present. She stressed they have had an “open door policy” with students, met with student leaders last month and are working on some of the issues that sparked Wednesday’s protest. Other concerns include expanding library and lab hours, improving food service and safety.
“As we look at our specific situation, of course we would prefer that students remain at Wilberforce University,” Hardaway said. “There is not a university in the universe that relishes the idea of students withdrawing. Certainly we do not relish that idea either.”
Despite their absence from the press conference, students said they will stage a second protest during next week’s Board of Trustees off-campus meeting, said senior Brandon Harvey, student government president and organizer of the protests. On Wednesday, 337 students requested withdraw forms and said they would leave by next fall if changes are not made to “diminishing conditions,” Harvey said.
“That will be our second stand. We’re going to go there and voice our opinions,” he said.
The private university’s current enrollment is 510 and is less than half of 2005’s enrollment of 1,170, according to data from the Ohio Board of Regents.
Hardaway said the university is in “a much stronger position” financially today, after restructuring debt and securing a lower interest rate in 2010. The university has about $25 million of debt and only six buildings are under collateral.
“We are significantly improved,” she said. “We are still facing challenges.”
Greene County and the state recently approved up to $282,000 to demolish five buildings on campus, including the married student apartments on Wilberforce Switch Road, a single-family home on U.S. 42 and dormitories on North Bickett Road.
Hardaway said the university has not yet begun talks of for a new dorm, but is working to improve the speed at which maintenance issues in residence halls are addressed after they are raised. One complaint from students was that a dorm has mold.
“We’re not going to say to students that if you hang in there with us until August 2013, we’ll have a new dorm; we’ll have renovations in place,” she said. “We believe in treating the students as young adults and helping them understand the framework and the context in which we are all operating.”
Harvey said he and the majority of students are frustrated by waiting for changes, including expanding the library hours to include Sunday and late nights.
Students also said they fear the university will close by 2015 if changes are not made because of dwindling enrollment, declining quality of students services and the university’s finances.
Faculty and a group called, Concerned Citizens of Greene County, filed a complaint in September 2011 with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office claiming the president and board were “violating the fiduciary duties to the university through malfeasance and gross negligence.”
While the attorney general’s office said it could not comment on the complaint, Harvey said students will not remain silent.
“We’re tired of talking. We actually want results,” he said. “It’s just time for a change.”