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The Florida Times-Union
December 8, 2004
Edward Waters College loses its accreditation
By BETH KORMANIK The Times-Union
Edward Waters College lost its accreditation after a last-minute effort to explain a plagiarism scandal at the historically black college failed, college officials said Tuesday.
The Jacksonville school, founded in 1866 to educate newly freed slaves, vowed to appeal the decision.
The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools voted to drop Edward Waters from membership, President Jimmy Jenkins said. School leaders learned of the decision Monday evening at the accrediting agency's annual meeting in Atlanta.
"This appears to be, and is, a state of emergency, but it's not the end," Jenkins told students and faculty gathered in a packed Milne Auditorium Tuesday night. "This is a new beginning."
The action follows months of turmoil including the revelation that Edward Waters plagiarized material from another college in its Quality Enhancement Plan, a document crucial for its reaccreditation bid. Jenkins said he believes the scandal is the reason why the association moved to drop the school.
The news could have devastating effects for students. Students at unaccredited schools cannot receive federal financial aid, money more than 90 percent of Edward Waters students rely on for expenses. Other universities and potential employers may not recognize degrees or course credit from Edward Waters as valid. It also means the school is not eligible for membership with the United Negro College Fund, a scholarship organization that requires member schools be accredited.
-------------------------------------------------- Ken Johnson, a 1968 EWC graduate, listens as Edward Waters College President Jimmy Jenkins discusses the accreditation situation at the school. JOHN PEMBERTON/The Times-Union --------------------------------------------------
During the appeal, the college will remain accredited and students will continue to receive financial aid.
Jenkins characterized the decision as "a bump in the road" during the standing-room-only meeting, which lasted about a half-hour. He said he met with Gov. Jeb Bush in Tallahassee Tuesday and took a call from Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, who was traveling in New York. Jenkins said both support the college, which has been accredited by SACS since 1979.
"I challenge each and every one of you to continue to support this institution," Jenkins said Tuesday night. "Trust us, this was, and is, a great lesson for the college, and one that will make us a better institution in the years to come."
On stage and pledging their support for the college were former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover and former state Sen. Betty Holzendorf, both Edward Waters alumni, several trustees, Jacksonville City Council members, and other representatives of the city, college and community.
Students received the news with mixed reactions.
"I'm happy he came in and told us the truth about accreditation, and I'm very happy we're appealing the decision," said Shecara Coney, a junior from Miami. "I have a lot of faith within my school that this problem will be overcome."
Freshman Alan Ward of Fort Myers looked ahead to his next 3 1/2 years at the school.
"I wonder, what am I going to do if it doesn't come through and we don't get the accreditation?" he said. "For now they said we should have accreditation for this semester right here. But what about when I graduate?"
The accrediting decision comes in the middle of finals week, which ends Saturday. Students then will leave for Christmas break and return in January for the spring semester. How many of the 1,300 students will return is unknown, but Jenkins acknowledged in an interview that enrollment could suffer.
"We will hope not, but we are not unrealistic in assuming that there might be some [students] who see this as a challenge to coming back," he said. "But the students in the auditorium tonight seemed fully supportive and did not appear to be stressed or panicky."
The college's recent troubles began in October, when a Times-Union investigation uncovered similarities between Edward Waters' Quality Enhancement Plan and that of Alabama A&M University.
Edward Waters officials acknowledged their plan contained material copied from Alabama A&M, repeating word for word significant passages and passing off detailed statistical information as their own. Alabama A&M also was going through the accreditation process and its plan was available on its Web site.
Accrediting officials asked Edward Waters to explain.
In a letter dated Nov. 11, Jenkins said, "I can assure you that during my 32 years in higher education I have never had to deal with a situation so humiliating." He blamed the mistake on an administrator who has since left the school but said the school failed in its oversight of the accrediting process.
But the mea culpa did not satisfy the association.
Edward Waters was supposed to hear a decision on its accreditation in June. But the association summoned school leaders to Atlanta last weekend -- six months early -- to explain the plagiarized report.
The accrediting body runs on a self-reporting system, so a college that deliberately provides false information breaches the system's integrity and risks losing its accreditation. Jenkins said he believes the college has a good chance of winning its appeal. The college was guilty of a lack of oversight, he said, but not of a lack of integrity.
The college focused its presentation last weekend on the facts of the plagiarism scandal, Jenkins said, and not defending the school's accreditation because it did not believe that would happen. The appeal will focus on defending the school's integrity.
This is not the first time Edward Waters has faced problems in the accreditation process, which occurs every 10 years. The school was on probation in the mid-1990s because of low student enrollment and financial problems, but emerged from that with its accreditation intact.
College supporters credit Jenkins with turning around the school by eliminating the debt and raising enrollment from 319 students to about 1,300 students.
But more recent problems have plagued the school. During last year's spring semester, more than half of all students had D's or F's in at least one class by mid-semester. The dean of students issued an internal memo saying the school was in an "academic crisis." The school's leadership publicly downplayed his concerns but later fired the dean, the vice president of academic affairs, the dean of professional programs and human services, the faculty union leader and the chairwomen of the psychology and communications departments.
After reassuring faculty and staff Tuesday night the college would prevail in its appeal, Jenkins said he had one message for the public: "Edward Waters College did not come this far to turn around."
beth.kormanikjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4619
This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/120804/met_17389178.shtml.
-- Anonymous, December 08, 2004
This is just amazing!!! Here we go again. When will we learn? QED
-- Anonymous, December 08, 2004
The information shared in June 2004 about EWC's grading policy didn't help in the negative accreditation review. See the June 9, 2004 post which is re-posted below. QED
Edward Waters College greenspun.com : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread Moderator: email@example.com
Here is an interesting article I read today from a Jacksonville, FL newspaper. It's reasonable to conclude that I'm quite concerned about these developments at EWC. See the article below. QED Last modified Wed., June 09, 2004 - 03:23 PM Originally created Wednesday, June 9, 2004
EWC fires 5 from top positions
No reasons given, but moves followed protest over handling of graduate.
By BETH KORMANIK and DAVID DECAMP The Times-Union Edward Waters College fired five administrators in recent weeks, a sweeping move that college officials did not explain Tuesday.
The private historically black college in Jacksonville fired its vice president of academic affairs, dean of students, dean of professional programs and human services, and the chairwomen of the psychology and communications departments.
College President Jimmy Jenkins declined to speak about the decisions, university officials said Tuesday. The college released a statement through attorney Michael Freed declining to give details, saying it usually does not comment on personnel decisions. In an interview, Freed declined to provide reasons for the moves.
"The college makes every employment decision individually focusing on the college's best interests," Freed said.
Jayme Bradford, chairwoman of the Communications Department, said the college gave no reason for her firing Friday, but it came after several clashes with administrators. In one incident, Bradford protested when a popular student leader was allowed to participate in graduation last month despite admitting she removed several failing grades from her transcript and was supposed to serve a yearlong suspension.
At least four of the five administrators fired were involved in that incident.
"I don't understand how they can fire key administrators without justification and not be held accountable," Bradford said. "What are the students going to do? These are key positions."
Juan Gray, dean of students, declined to comment about his firing. In April, Gray issued an internal memo saying the school was in an "academic crisis" because more than half of all students had D's or F's in at least one class by mid-semester. The school's leadership publicly downplayed his concerns.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Alan Sheppard and Psychology Department Chairwoman Patricia Whittingham did not return messages to their cell phones. Dudley Gill, dean of professional programs and human services, also did not return phone messages.
Bradford provided the names of those fired, which Phyllis Bell-Davis, the university's director of institutional effectiveness, said were accurate.
The college's statement lists no names except Bradford. It took issue with her account, calling it "inaccurate" but declining to give specifics.
"It is particularly troubling that anyone in higher education would disclose purported information regarding individual students or colleagues," the statement said. "This standing alone evidences an unfitness for employment in an academic setting."
The firing comes in the middle of Bradford's summer teaching schedule, which includes a creative writing course and a communications workshop for high school students. She does not know who will take over those duties.
Bradford said she was escorted off campus and her office door locked with her belongings inside. She said she tried to contact college officials but her attempts were rebuffed.
The dispute that ties most of those fired together involved the grades of one popular student leader, according to college memos obtained by the Times-Union. The student admitted she deleted failing grades on her transcript and was found guilty of academic dishonesty and forging her transcript. One of the grades came from Whittingham and another grade came from an instructor who reported to Bradford. Gray and Sheppard were aware of the situation, according to the documents.
Despite the student's appeal being denied by Vice President of Student Affairs Karen Buckman, she was cleared for graduation, according to the documents. Freed declined to say how the decision was changed.
Bradford said she joined the American Association of University Professors, a national organization dedicated to faculty rights, after the incident.
Bradford said she believes the campus also is punishing her for releasing an essay written by a student killed across the street from campus dorms. The student, Johnathan Glenn, had written a piece for Bradford's class criticizing campus security before he was shot in April in a robbery attempt. Bradford shared the essay with students and faculty, and it eventually reached the media.
"I wanted to share his life's words, and he became an involuntary martyr for his cause," she said. "I hope we learn from it. His tenure there was brief but it was very memorable, and we should learn from this experience."
Bradford said the college denied her request to attend Glenn's funeral as a chaperone to a group of students from EWC, even though Glenn "was like a son to me."
Jonathan Knight, who directs the program on academic freedom and tenure at the American Association of University Professors, said colleges that want to dismiss a faculty member mid-term should have a hearing before a faculty committee. Faculty should know the reasons why they are being dismissed, he said.
Department chairs are considered supervisors, not faculty, for collective bargaining purposes, Freed said.
Bradford, a former Times-Union reporter, said she just wants her job back.
"I love the students and I love what I was doing," she said. "I know I was effective at what I was doing. I think this is personal and it's not professional."
beth.kormanikjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4619
david.decampjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4699
-- bill dickens (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 09, 2004
Answers While this is unfortunate there is no true information provided in the article. Because the reporter could not get statements from the college, the individual expanded on the firing. I would like to learn more information before we begin any judgemental rhetoric. Early this year there was an article about how enrollment has increased at Edward Waters, they are preparing to expand the college and build more dorms, they are increasing security, they are not in financial debt as are many private colleges and universities. It was a positive article. I will try to find that and post on the board as well.
-- Carolyn (email@example.com), June 24, 2004.
-- Anonymous, December 08, 2004
I'm ashamed and embarassed by the situation that has taken place at Edward Waters.
-- Anonymous, December 09, 2004
I am saddened by this news...EWC has a proud and rich history. We as a people, not just a denomination, can afford to see another legacy fall by the wayside!
-- Anonymous, December 10, 2004