Sunday, July 19, 2009
Texas Black Legislative Caucus brings aid to Paul Quinn College
The caucus brought in an army of state elected officials and commissioners to initiate an attack strategy.
Paul Quinn College received a critical shot in the arm Monday toward its chances of regaining its accreditation status and the overall future of the 137-year old institution.
The oldest historically Black college west of the Mississippi River received strong support from the Texas Black Legislative Caucus, which brought in an army of state elected officials and commissioners to initiate an attack strategy in response from their accreditation removal by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Strategies will include raising $1.5 million by the end of August and expediting other certification alternatives if Paul Quinn does not win its appeal in late August.
“As you can see Paul Quinn has some great friends. We’re incredibly humbled and flattered to have such wonderful support,” Michael Sorrell, Paul Quinn College president, said at a July 13 press conference inside the school’s administration building. “We’ve turned the corner and we are going to become one of this nation’s great small colleges.
“We are going to be fine. We will be here in the fall.”
“We recognize the importance of Paul Quinn University, not just for the city of Dallas and just for African Americans students, but because of the value as an institution for the entire state of Texas,” said state representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), chair of the TLBC, a coalition of Texas’ 14 African American state representatives and the two African American state senators.
State Representative Helen Giddings, whose district Paul Quinn is located and who spearheaded the union between the college and the legislators, said: “I am optimistic about the future of this institution. Let there be no mistake: Paul Quinn is bigger than this district, this city and state. We have had difficult times, but we have turned the corner.”
In a series of July 13 meetings, the Caucus flew in Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes, who worked with State Representative Dan Branch (R-Dallas) and State Senator Judith Zaffarini (D-Laredo), both chair of their respective Higher Education Committees. The $1.5 million fundraising campaign was spurred by the Black legislators while the commissioners looked at taking advantage of other certification sources.
The group also started exploring to tap into stimulus dollars that would help renovate or even tear down and replace deteriorated buildings on the campus.
“We’re looking to expedite the process of looking at a certificate of authority that will allow Paul Quinn to offer degrees to its students,” Turner said.
“We’ll do all we can to ensure that Paul Quinn continues on this path that President Sorrell and his administration have turned the corner and are moving in the right direction,” Branch said. “This seems like absolutely the wrong time to try and shut down Paul Quinn. We have this ship headed in the right direction and it has such a great history.”
Paul Quinn has seen enormous gains over the past two years, soon after Sorrell took the helm. But the school was already placed on probation by SACS during that period. In spite eliminating their non-compliance violations from 23 to 0 over the past year, while increasing donations 90 percent over the past two years and skyrocketing their applications for admissions from 273 to 1,283 in a year (a 600 percent increase), SACS ruled two weeks ago that the school still had critical issues in financial resources, financial stability and institutional effectiveness and had not done enough to pull themselves out of probation.
SACS President Dr. Belle Wheelan said the commission overseeing Paul Quinn recognized the improvements, but just “ran out of time.”
“We do not accept SACS’s opinion that we ran out of time,” said Sorrell, who immediately decided to appeal the decision. “Our time has not yet ended, it’s not over, there is still time left on this clock. Beyond the appeal, we are more optimistic about the friends and commitments that we heard this morning.
The law firm of Bickel and Brewer has been hired to lead Paul Quinn through the appeal process.
“We believe the facts fully support our belief that the Commission’s claim, relative to Paul Quinn’s accreditations, was arbitrary and capricious,” said partner William A. Brewer III. “It is hard to imagine this famed institution not being a part of our community, or the appellate process not upholding Paul Quinn’s appeal.”
A $50,000 donation was already made by a donor who wished to remain anonymous at this time, Giddings announced at the press conference. TLBC will contact all 1,200 students who registered for the next school year to ensure them that Paul Quinn will not close.
“I think SACS will see that this community and communities beyond Dallas geographically are committed to higher ed and to this university,” Turner said. “We will do everything we can to join with Paul Quinn to get that accreditation decision reversed and getting it back on track. I think its future is even brighter.”
State representative Al Edwards (D-Houston) expressed the importance of saving Paul Quinn as a HBCU.
“We’re here to save a 137-year old Black educational institution. I don’t have a problem specifically saying it. If it was Hispanic, or Jewish, we would say it,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to make sure that we keep a close eye on our institution, as part of our history, our culture.
“We’ve got to be careful how people take that away from us. They’re in authority. They may have the right intentions, but they may have other ulterior motives. We’ve got to, as Black folks, save our Black institutions.”
While state representative Terri Hodge (D-Dallas) is pleased to see the efforts behind the college, she wishes she had seen it sooner.
“It’s sort of sad that it’s so late in coming. This has got be a long-term effort,” Hodge said. “This isn’t something that we can do overnight, giving one hit and one bang, then off we go.
“We must continue this and the community must continue to support this college. There are many students who attend this college that are not from this area. But those of us in this area are going have to keep this college viable and open.”
An optimistic Giddings said: “Paul Quinn will be here for another hundred years and the best days for Paul Quinn are still ahead.”
Pegasus News Content partner - Dallas Weekly