As Debts Mount, Morris Brown College Will Not Reopen Next Semester

By | December 22, 2008

Well before city officials shut off the water at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College last week, the 127-year-old college was already buckling under the weight of $32-million in debt.

Now, without the money to pay $380,000 in water bills dating back to 2004 — let alone faculty and staff salaries and other key operating expenses — the historically black college will not reopen next semester and may soon close permanently, officials told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this weekend.

Campus officials were scheduled to meet with bankers today to negotiate short-term loans as Morris Brown tries to work out its financial situation, Rhonda Copenny, a trustee, told the newspaper. Without such bridge financing, she said, the college could shut its doors for good in three weeks.

This is only the latest struggle for Morris Brown, which in recent years has suffered from plummeting enrollment, financial corruption, and a revolving door for presidents.

In 2002 the college lost its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools because of heavy debt and a criminal investigation into the financial dealings of a former president, Dolores E. Cross. Four years later, Ms. Cross (who resigned from the college in 2002) pleaded guilty to embezzlement, admitting that she had fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in federal student loans and grants to cover the college’s expenses, which increased sharply during her tenure.

This week officials of Morris Brown pleaded for another chance to right its sinking financial ship. “The institution has been a major part of the landscape of this community,” said the acting president, Stanley E. Pritchett. “It certainly deserves to remain a viable part of the community.”

Libby Sander, Chronicle of Higher Education