Leader of Shaw alumni urges trustees to resign

Staff WriterMay 28, 2010 

— Citing "gross neglect," Shaw University's national alumni group has called for the school's board of trustees to step down or be dismissed, an appeal addressed to multimillionaire lawyer, alumnus and board Chairman Willie Gary.

The May 14 letter from the alumni association's president, Emily Perry, cites no specific grievance, but says: "We can no longer stand by and allow Shaw to appear to deteriorate due to poor judgment. ... We have serious concerns regarding conflict of interest, fiduciary responsibilities, adverse interest and commitment."

Shaw, the South's oldest historically black college, has spent the last year trying to shovel its way out of debt exceeding $20 million. The May 14 letter is not the first rebuke. In March, the school's Florida alumni group sent a letter to Shaw administrators saying it was "amazed" that giving among board members totaled only $41,089 since July, despite Gary's pledge that each of the roughly 40 board members would chip in $50,000.

Reached in Florida on Thursday, Gary said he has no plans to step down or request anyone else's ouster. He acknowledged failing to keep up with his own $10 million pledge, made in 1991 at a promised rate of $250,000 a year - a gift that brought him nationwide praise.

Shaw audits conducted between 2002 and 2006 shows at least $7 million outstanding from a single board member's pledge, and they show the university contracted for insurance coverage with the relative of an unnamed board member.

"Whether I've given any money to Shaw in the last year or so? No, because of the economic times," Gary said. "We don't have it."

Let's meet face to face

In a letter to Perry on Thursday, Gary proposed a face-to-face meeting with all concerned parties. In an interview, Shaw's board chairman promised future giving once the economy improves.

"People are being laid off," Gary said. "We're no exception. We've got a couple of cases we're going to settle this year, and we're going to give money to Shaw like you wouldn't believe."

About 2,700 students attend Shaw. Its board consists of educators, business people and Baptist officials in North Carolina, Florida and New York, as well as boxer Evander Holyfield and boxing promoter Don King, Shaw's website says.

The letter from Perry gave a Thursday deadline for a response from Gary, adding the group could not be responsible for repercussions if its deadline wasn't met. Gary said he didn't receive Perry's letter, addressed to his Florida law office, until Thursday, when it was faxed to him by The News & Observer. Reading it, he praised both the board and the alumni association but said he would "absolutely not" step down.

'Weather the storm'

"We're just going to have to weather the storm and stay together as a family," Gary said. "Are there outstanding pledges with board members? Yes. Y-E-S. Do we need to raise more money from board members? Y-E-S."

Perry did not return a call Thursday, and other alumni chapter presidents declined to comment. The Rev. David Forbes, another longtime board member, did not return a call.

Copies of Perry's letter were sent to board of trustee and alumni association members. The letter says it is hard to seek money from alumni in a time of rampant complaints about conditions at Shaw. It suggests the board eliminate ineffective members or leave to make way for the future.

"Now is the time for a new board of trustees that can effectively attend to the fiduciary responsibilities of Shaw," Perry's letter said, and, "We cannot afford the continued mistrust, negative news media coverage, hostility, calls, faxes and letters."

Shaw's financial developments and alumni concerns come as the school is seeking a new president and preparing for its accreditation to be renewed in 2012.

Earlier this year, Shaw University secured a $31 million federal loan with help from U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 829-4818

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