The nation’s oldest private historically black university faced a protest by more than half its population on Wednesday as students threatened to withdraw over what they claim is mismanagement of the school.
Students at Wilberforce University met outside the administration building to deliver a message to university President Patricia Lofton Hardaway and demand change of “diminishing conditions.” The students said without action, they believe the 156-year-old university will close by 2015.
“We need some immediate change now,” said senior Brandon Harvey, president of the student government and protest organizer. “Academic life, spiritual life and social life are at an all-time low. I’m afraid when I come back three to five years from now, Wilberforce University will not be alive.”
Harvey said 337 students requested withdraw forms on Wednesday, and they will leave the school by fall 2013 if conditions do not improve. According to Wilberforce, 510 students are presently enrolled at the university. In response to the rally, university trustees met on Wednesday, but the board declined to comment until today, said university spokeswoman Marcia Copeland Hudson.
Hardaway immediately after receiving the students’ letter said she had not heard “a clear, consistent message in terms of what (the students’) issues are.” She said, however, that she and other administrators have always had an open door policy with students.
“We will continue to be open to speak with students and address their concerns,” she said. “The university continues to work in the best interest of the students. We don’t take this as a gauntlet; as a line in the sand. Students are our reason for existing and we have long been a place of access and success and we know that we will continue.”
The students’ complaints over dwindling enrollment, rising tuition and living costs, the pay of administrators versus the compensation of faculty, mold in a dorm and declining quality of student services echo some of the issues raised by faculty last year.
In September 2011, faculty and a group called Concerned Citizens of Green County filed a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General alleging the Board of Trustees and Hardaway were “violating the fiduciary duties to the university through malfeasance and gross negligence,” the Dayton Daily News reported at the time. The complaint also charged that the university is spending down its endowment too low and was more than $24 million in debt. The university’s endowment in 2010 was nearly $11 million, according to their most recent federal filing as a nonprofit.
The attorney general’s office said they cannot comment on any possible investigation.
Hardaway, whose compensation for 2010 was reported as $143,792, in the past has confirmed to the Daily News that in order to balance the budget, Wilberforce has been forced to furlough employees, stop payments to retirement accounts and withhold paychecks.
Wilberforce is now less than half of 2005’s enrollment of 1,170, according to historical data kept by the Ohio Board of Regents. 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.
Harvey said Wilberforce is not preparing students to compete in a global environment. He added that the event “was a total disrespect to the student body by the president” because she did not come down from her office to address the group.
During their event, the students walked to Central State University, the public historically black college just across the street, to request transfer forms and request a meeting with President Cynthia Jackson Hammond.
“She explained to them that while she appreciated them coming over, that protocol is very important,” said CSU spokeswoman Gayle Barge. “And that they should have open dialog and should be talking to President Hardaway.”