A.M.E. Herald receives news story about black college

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Hi, everyone the A.M.E. Herald is in partnership with the United Methodist News service, we share news with one another. Below is a news story the Herald just received regarding Benett college an historically black college. What they are doing may give us some ideas for morris brown and our other ame related schools.

Bennett College makes strides in Cole's first year at helm

July 30, 2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton * (615) 7425470* Nashville {03380}

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Johnetta Cole, http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and is reprinted with permission.

By Tim Simmons News & Observer

GREENSBORO, N.C. (UMNS) - At age 66, Johnnetta Cole can stake a legitimate claim to being a successful author, a celebrated college president and an academic with near-celebrity status in the world of higher education.

She is, however, quite lousy at retirement.

Few people could be happier about this than the staff and students who gathered July 29 to celebrate Cole's first anniversary as president of Bennett College.

The future of Bennett, one of only two historically black women's colleges in the nation, was bleak when Cole took over. The school was in debt, its buildings were an eyesore, its enrollment was less than 500, and its accreditation was in peril.

But the United Methodist-related school has made great strides toward turning itself around even as some other historically black colleges have all but lost their battle to survive.

"A year ago, Bennett's position was difficult, challenged - how many euphemisms do we need?" Cole said after the brief anniversary celebration. "But the folks we needed most to survive were the ones who never left. Many of them were in that room today. They are the reason we are moving forward again." The people Cole praises don't believe this. If they are the reason Bennett is on the mend, they say it is only because the 130-year-old institution has found a firecracker for a leader who makes everyone want to work harder.

"You wonder why a woman like her who has accomplished so much would even come here," student Tonya Doane said. "Then you see her doing something like pulling weeds to help clean up the campus or taking the time to really find out how you're doing, and you realize you have to succeed. You can't let her down."

Cole knows the recovery won't be easy. She expects enrollment will drop to maybe 400 students before it rebounds in 2004. Despite recent successes at raising money, the school is still woefully short of what it needs.

"But I believe deeply in women's colleges," Cole said. "Those who are here believe it too. You can't buy that."

Success at Spelman

Making those around her believe in dreams was a part of Cole's legacy before she came to Bennett. She was well-known as a professor of anthropology at Hunter College in New York when colleagues urged her to apply for the presidency of Atlanta's Spelman College, the nation's other historically black women's college, in 1987.

Her selection as the first black female president of Spelman created a splash in academia. But that news was quickly trumped when Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, donated $20 million to the school during Cole's inauguration ceremony. It was the largest single donation to a historically black college at the time.

It was also just the beginning of Cole's success at Spelman. During 10 years there, Cole more than doubled Spelman's endowment to $98 million. It became the first historically black college in the country to top $100 million in a single fund-raising drive. It was named best liberal arts college in the South by U.S. News & World Report.

Cole retired from Spelman in 1997, went on to teach at nearby Emory University, retired again to travel and write, but got a call in 2002 asking whether she would help stabilize Bennett.

Bennett was clearly in trouble.

A jewel among historically black schools after it was converted to a women's college in 1926, Bennett was in disrepair. Buildings had not been renovated in decades. Students had to use the library at nearby N.C. A&T State University. Alumni back for reunions cried at the sight of peeling paint, cracked facades and haphazard maintenance on the 50-acre campus.

The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had also threatened to revoke the school's accreditation because of budget problems. The books were so bad that auditors weren't sure how much debt the school was carrying. The association report cites an operating deficit of $3.8 million for the 2001-02 fiscal year.

After learning more about the school, Cole stunned supporters when she said she not only would help but would be willing to serve as president for five years.

"We talked among ourselves and said we really need someone like a Johnnetta Cole, but never in our wildest dreams did we think we would get the Johnnetta Cole," said Sandra Walker, the school's director of alumni affairs. Cole told trustees what most knew but would not admit: Without more money, the school could not survive. She redirected federal money into two major renovations and set to work with Jacqueline Pollard, whom she brought from Spelman, to start raising money.

Bennett on the mend

The effort has energized the alumni, who presented Cole with a check for $1 million in May as part of $9.1 million in total contributions. Cole then persuaded Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, to lead a $50 million revitalization campaign.

"I surprised people when I did that," said Cole, who served briefly as an adviser to former President Clinton. "I surprised myself. But the good Lord, she sent me Bob Dole."

More specifically, Cole said, Elizabeth Dole offered to help the school before she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Cole said she later thought of recruiting Bob Dole, because "I open my mind to all possibilities."

Remaining open to possibilities is why Cole believes there is still a need for a small, private women's college with deep roots in black history.

"This school is not for everybody, but for those students who need it, it can be honest-to-goodness life changing," Cole said. "Women's colleges produce a disproportionate share of successful women. Right now, I suggest we not turn this faucet off."

-- Anonymous, July 30, 2003


I am happy to read that Bennett College is turning itself around under the helm of Dr. Cole. However, it seems of late that I am hearing about a number of HBCUs being in all of this financial trouble. I am concerned. It seems like you hear about one set of problems at a HBCU, and then there is another school with financial issues. What is going on, or better yet, what has been going on? Are development processes (i.e., fundraising processes) non-existent or has there been a mismanagement of funds? What is up with the Alumni? How is it that Dr. Cole shows up at Bennett and then the money comes pouring in? What was the influence of the past President at Bennett? (What are the influences of the Presidents at the other colleges)? Have they no prestige? Somebody help me to understand.

Morris Brown is embarrassing enough, hearing about other HBCUs in the financial dumps is getting to be depressing.

-- Anonymous, July 31, 2003

My sister, you have asked some really important questions. One of the great things about Dr.Cole is that she thinks "outside the box" asking Bob Dole and Mrs. Dole to help is ingenius. For it brings in another constiutency that perhaps black colleges do not think of. I also wonder if there is a strong fundraising campaign in place. The movie drumline was a big hit on DVD and crossed racial lines, that would have been an excellent fundraising campaign to capitalize on the film. Also many entertaines hold benefits for their favorite charities. L.L. Cool J in A.M.E. it would be great if he were approached and asked to do a fundraiser with some of his friends.

It will take creative thinking like that to help our school and it will take all of us pulling together. There will be a summit on higher education in December that Bishop Richardson is holding to discuss the very questions you have raised.

-- Anonymous, July 31, 2003

Thank you for your response Rev. Rogers. It will be interesting to hear what comes out of that meeting. I think that it is important to find a model that will work best for the financial well being for HBCUs, AME schools in particular. At other colleges and universities in the US with strong financial support, Presidents are encouraged to have some knowledge of fundrasing, as are Deans and department chairs. The Chronicle of Higher Education is full of articles devoted to the changing roles of collegiate Presidents and collegiate faculty as more than just academics. Presidents have to have some knowledge about fundraising, and prove that they are successful fundraisers before they get hired. Many collegiate departments around the nation are encouraged to find innovative, qualified faculty to teach and research for funding. Development offices work to market to solicit participation to alumni beyond matriculation. (My alma mater sends me a letter every other month). Or, they cultivate prospects for future participation in the programs of the school. I do commend Dr. Cole on her foresight to reach to other groups. But with the conversations we've been having about spending on other threads, it is obvious that African Americans have wealth; we just need to better invest our wealth. At any rate, We have to get on the ball and be more proactive about our schools if we stand to compete academically in the 21st century.

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2003

I think that AME related or not, a number of colleges could learn alot from the model set by Dr. Cole. Having attended an HBCU, I can say that I think the biggest problem facing alot of them is the "thinking outside the box" or beyond what has "always" been done. Sometimes what has always been done is not appropriate for modern needs/advancements in black academia. There are ways to preserve the legacy and "hbcu feel" of an institution and utilize different methods of administration if you find that the old ways aren't working anymore. I really hope other institutions look to Bennett and Spelman as models.

-- Anonymous, August 03, 2003

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