State News

NCCU operated satellite campus near Atlanta

Posted August 10, 2008 4:02 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2008 12:15 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina Central University officials are trying to decide what to do with about 50 students who attended a satellite campus at a megachurch near Atlanta run by a school trustee.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday that the campus at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., whose pastor is NCCU trustee Eddie Long. The newspaper said University of North Carolina officials never properly approved the programs offered by the New L.I.F.E., which operated for four years.

"I can think of no justifiable reason why the former NCCU leadership would have completely ignored and failed to abide by the appropriate approval process in creating this program," UNC system President Erskine Bowles said in a statement. "Such action is contrary to all university policy. To say the least, it is very disappointing. We are working closely with Chancellor (Charlie) Nelms and his new leadership team to examine the various academic, legal, and financial questions associated with this Georgia-based program."

Nelms came to NCCU a year ago and said the program quit admitting new students in March 2007. "Since no members of the current executive leadership team were involved in creating the New Birth program, we can only infer that it was established in order to provide quality educational opportunities for participating students," he said.

NCCU is "currently developing a teach-out option for students nearing degree completion," Nelms said.

The name and signature of Beverly Washington Jones is on several documents, but she declined to comment. Jones was dean of NCCU's University College when the New Birth program was created and later became provost, a position she held until earlier this year.

And NCCU's chancellor at the time was James H. Ammons, who's now president of Florida A&M University. He didn't respond to written requests for an interview, The News & Observer said.

The New Birth program, which began in 2004, ended in June when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, refused to authorize it.

Tom Benberg of SACS' Commission on Colleges, which accredits NCCU programs, said the organization denied NCCU’s request for changes to the Georgia programs, which included bachelor's degree in criminal justice, general business administration and hospitality and tourism.

The university hadn't properly informed SACS of the programs, Benberg said, adding that he believes the programs were being run without accreditation. He said he didn't know what would happen to students enrolled in the programs or those who had received degrees.

NCCU spokeswoman Miji Bell said 39 students were enrolled in the program and another 25 had already graduated. She said the degrees are valid since the courses are the same as those taught in Durham and the adjunct faculty were screened before hiring.

Long, the trustee who's the church pastor, also is a 1976 NCCU graduate named to the university's board of trustees in 2002.

Long released a statement through his Washington-based spokesman, Dan Rene, describing his church as "one of the largest congregations in the United States" and said it "uses a variety of institutions and programs to meet the needs of its members."

Last week, Long announced a $1 million gift to create a distinguished professorship fund at NCCU, and he has delivered at least two commencement addresses at the school.

A UNC system officials said the program should have been reviewed, but there's no mention of it in minutes from trustee meetings in 2003 and 2004. And Long's role in the program's creation isn't clear.

Kay Thomas, the NCCU board's chairwoman now, said she didn't recall being briefed or voting on the program, but added that her board doesn't routinely approve specific distance education programs.

"I see no problem with it," Thomas said. "The idea is to get people certified for jobs, even if they're not North Carolinians."

But Alan Mabe, the UNC system's vice president for academic planning and university-school programs, said the UNC Board of Governors should have vetted it. "We don't have any records of it being presented," Mabe said.

NCCU's Faculty Senate did discuss the program briefly in a contentious debate, said Kofi Amoateng, a finance professor who headed the faculty in 2004.

"It was not an easy approval; it was a close fight," he said. "I was not very happy. We never thought it through. We needed time to study, but it got pushed through."

Amoateng, who has taught at New Birth, said the students there got the same education as those in Durham. is one of several business professors to occasionally teach at the New Birth site.

In four years, 25 New Birth students earned undergraduate degrees from NCCU. The program didn't receive tax dollars. Instead, NCCU raised the money to pay instructors and rent the church space through tuition receipts.