Ought to Shaw and Saint Augustine’s merge?

As embattled Saint Augustine’s College fights for its survival amid extreme monetary points, accreditation challenges and a number of lawsuits, Board of Trustees chairman Brian Boulware is alleging that native energy gamers try to pressure a merger between SAU and Shaw College.

The proposal would unite two traditionally Black universities in Raleigh, N.C., every with a historical past stretching again over 150 years.

Outstanding local people members are reportedly driving the thought, which Boulware and Saint Augustine’s present president oppose—even because the college faces an unsure future. Shaw officers, in the meantime, have remained quiet on the potential merger.

An Explosive Letter

Particulars of the alleged merger effort got here in a sprawling four-page letter Boulware wrote in response to a lawsuit filed by the Save SAU Coalition, a bunch of alumni and different supporters calling for the Board of Trustees to step down over the college’s fiscal points. The plaintiffs additionally blame the board for SAU’s lack of accreditation, which was stripped final yr, although the college stays accredited whereas it mounts a authorized problem to that call.

The Save SAU lawsuit alleges that Saint Augustine’s has been “dropped at its knees by the misfeasance, malfeasance, and utter neglect of its Board of Trustees, and particularly its two most up-to-date chairmen,” Boulware and former chair James Perry. Plaintiffs allege that the board is “led by a dictatorial and vindictive chairman who’s extra involved with lining his personal pockets than main the college.” Additionally they accuse the board of squashing criticism and dissent, calling it “a corrupt echo chamber.”

The college can be being sued by former president Christine McPhail, who was fired in December—a transfer she alleges got here after she filed a gender-based discrimination grievance in opposition to the principally male board, which she accused of making a hostile work atmosphere.

In his letter to the college neighborhood, Boulware largely disregarded the considerations raised by the Save SAU Coalition, denying that he had financially benefited from his service on the Board of Trustees. He additionally shared particulars in regards to the merger effort, describing a “enterprise assembly” held over dinner with native leaders. Although he didn’t cite a date, different attendees have confirmed the dinner passed off on Feb. 24.

On the assembly, Boulware wrote, he spoke with an unnamed tv station proprietor who allegedly advised him, “Raleigh doesn’t want two black universities. We want the 2 to merge. I don’t care what you name it. Nonetheless, we want them each on SAU’s property as a result of we want downtown land to broaden the event footprint.” (The tv government, later recognized as Jim Goodmon, has disputed this account.)

In keeping with the letter, Shaw College president Paulette Dillard allegedly advised Boulware she would “reserve judgment” on the proposal. However Boulware alleged that the merger had additionally been pitched to his predecessor, Perry, who resigned from his management function in January—a transfer Boulware attributed to well being points. He wrote that Shaw’s board chairman “had floated the thought of a ‘merger’ to the previous SAU Chairman three or 4 weeks earlier than the dinner, which he didn’t take critically.”

Boulware additionally recounted a dialog with a neighborhood developer who allegedly advised him, “You haven’t any leverage on this scenario. It’s essential to contemplate this [merger] as an choice.” The developer indicated the Raleigh enterprise neighborhood largely shared that sentiment. A day after rejecting the proposal, Boulware famous, a information report on monetary challenges at Saint Augustine’s and different state HBCUs was revealed.

“Shortly after that, a focused marketing campaign in opposition to SAU ensued,” Boulware wrote.

Although Boulware’s letter didn’t checklist the enterprise leaders in attendance, native TV Station WRAL did. Of the enterprise leaders named, solely Goodmon responded to a request for remark from Inside Greater Ed.

Goodmon, president and chief working officer of Capitol Broadcasting Firm, which owns WRAL, advised Inside Greater Ed in an emailed assertion on behalf of the enterprise neighborhood that “the dinner has been extensively misrepresented.”

Goodmon stated the intention of these in attendance “was to create a impartial house to encourage open and trustworthy dialogue about these two Raleigh-based HBCUs’ futures and to discover methods they could cooperate.”

Goodmon famous each universities face monetary challenges.

“A merger, whereas complicated, may doubtlessly enable these colleges to pool sources, strengthen educational choices, and guarantee their legacies proceed for generations to come back. It was not an unique concept by any means because it has been proposed for a few years by individuals who care deeply about each establishments. We provided to rent a marketing consultant to judge the prospects of a merger, together with different concepts. That provide continues to be on the desk,” Goodmon wrote within the assertion.

Would a Merger Work?

Apart from Boulware, no SAU officers have publicly weighed in on the merger proposal. Neither has anybody from Shaw. Saint Augustine’s interim president, Marcus Burgess, opposes the merger, Boulware wrote.

Officers from SAU and Shaw didn’t reply to requests for remark from Inside Greater Ed.

Past the query of curiosity is the matter of feasibility. Is Shaw sturdy sufficient to soak up SAU because it navigates declining enrollment, months of payroll delays, a number of lawsuits, accreditation points at the moment in litigation and a $7.9 million tax lien?

Although Shaw has managed to keep away from the accreditation and administrative points plaguing Saint Augustine’s, it’s confronted its personal enrollment and enterprise challenges. Pupil head rely at Shaw was 1,067 in fall 2022, a decline of greater than half since fall 2012, when enrollment stood at almost 2,200 college students, based on federal information.

SAU has additionally seen enrollment declines, however they’ve been much less extreme than Shaw’s. Whereas Saint Augustine’s enrolled 1,442 college students in fall 2012, that quantity slipped to 1,044 by fall 2022, based on the newest federal information. Enrollment at SAU fell as little as 767 in fall 2018 earlier than it started to rebound the following yr.

Shaw’s restricted monetary sources additionally increase considerations about whether or not the college is robust sufficient to soak up its struggling neighbor. Public monetary paperwork present that Shaw operated at a loss in 4 of the final 10 fiscal years. Its endowment was valued at $14 million in June 2022.

By comparability, SAU has operated at a loss in six of the final 10 obtainable fiscal years and had an endowment valued at $8.9 million as of June 2021, based on SAU’s newest revealed filings.

Since Boulware’s letter was revealed, officers at each universities and the native enterprise leaders who allegedly pushed the merger concept have remained silent. Alumni and neighborhood members featured in native information have largely spoken in opposition to the thought. Some expressed concern in regards to the lack of identification for SAU, which was based in 1867; others see a sinister land seize.

Some within the HBCU sphere are additionally skeptical.

“The general public dialog appears to essentially be a dialog about an acquisition relatively than a merger. A merger could be a few coming collectively in true partnership, and that doesn’t seem like the thrust of the general public conversations. The general public discourse appears to be about Shaw buying St. Aug’s to avoid wasting St. Aug’s,” stated a pacesetter of one other in-state HBCU by electronic mail, talking anonymously.

The nameless HBCU chief famous {that a} key query driving such mergers in increased ed is whether or not the establishment to be acquired has worth to the one absorbing it. And is that worth price taking up debt and grappling with different points that may include an acquisition?

“A merger or acquisition doesn’t resolve issues in a single day. Is there a tolerance and readiness for the journey? Does the buying president have the curiosity, expertise and capability to steer by means of the merger or acquisition? Identical questions for the board of the buying establishment? Is the acquired board prepared to surrender energy?” the nameless HBCU chief advised Inside Greater Ed.

For such a merger or acquisition to achieve success, each events have to be affected person, the chief stated, noting that officers at each Shaw and Saint Augustine’s must be prepared and in a position “to go on a sluggish and messy journey” by means of a sophisticated course of with a “clear worth proposition” outlined.

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