Suber to step down as president of St. Augustine’s University

jstancill@newsobserver.comApril 4, 2014 

— Dianne Boardley Suber, president of St. Augustine’s University, said Friday that she would step down as the Raleigh campus battles financial problems, declining enrollment and departures of top administrators.

“After much thought and consideration and – and prayer, I have decided to announce my retirement and leave the Presidency of Saint Augustine’s University at the end of May 2014,” she said in a statement late Friday. “These last 14 years at the helm of this wonderful institution have been both challenging and rewarding. I trust that my legacy will affirm that I ‘left it better than I found it.’ 

The announcement capped a week of tumultuous revelations. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting body, was reviewing the school because of its financial condition. Also, federal agencies are probing the university’s handling of grants.

St. Aug’s, a historically black institution founded in 1867, had been troubled for months, with administrative turnover, staff cuts and an audit last fall that showed a $3 million drop in tuition revenue.

The trustees met on Friday. A spokeswoman for the university said Trustee Chairman Rodney Gaddy would have a news conference on Monday to discuss future steps. Gaddy could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Suber said the last few months had been challenging.

“Sometimes we tend to ‘stay too long at the fair,’ ” her statement said. “More often, we stay just long enough. I trust that the next president of this 147-year-old institution of historical value with a strong present and promising future will bring the wisdom, experience and tenacity to enable Saint Augustine’s University to stay the course in spite of troubled waters.”

Recent departures

Suber’s announcement came one day after she fired the vice president of business and finance, Angela Haynes, who called it retaliation after Haynes had taken her concerns to the Board of Trustees. Last month, Suber had also put the provost, Connie Allen, on leave with little explanation, according to Allen. Two other vice presidents left last year.

Hours before her retirement announcement, Suber had issued a statement about the Haynes story that was reported in The News & Observer. She did not specifically respond to Haynes’ retaliation claim, but said: “As President, the health of the institution is my primary concern. In any organization, if there are financial discrepancies, naturally the responsibility falls on the leadership of that department. After finding several instances of fiscal inconsistencies, it was determined that a change in leadership needed to take place.”

As the university’s financial condition deteriorated, alumni had expressed frustration with how the school was being run. Brian Boulware, an alumnus, posted concerns about Suber on the university’s Facebook page and solicited alumni to contact board members.

On Friday’s news of Suber’s departure, Boulware said, “I think this is the beginning of a new day and a brighter future.”

Financial disarray

A steady decline in students in recent years led to a budget shortfall. A contractor on the school’s football stadium sued St. Aug’s, citing $675,000 in overdue payments. The U.S. Department of Labor found that the university had failed to compensate some employees for overtime work. The university had notified employees that they would be furloughed during spring break in March, but then abruptly canceled the staff’s unpaid leave.

Suber was the architect of St. Aug’s move from college to university in 2012, along with a reorganization of its curriculum. Last week, the university announced that it would offer the first of several online graduate degree programs starting this fall.

Last year, the university considered another ambitious proposal – acquiring St. Paul’s College in Virginia, a small private historically black college that was about to close its doors. St. Aug’s leaders ultimately decided the rescue was too financially risky.

A September audit showed signs that St. Aug’s was in no condition to take on another campus. The report identified disorganized and delayed business functions, including late accounting procedures and poor collection of student past-due accounts. Checks had been issued under the signature of a former finance vice president months after he had left the university.

Besides the accounting disarray, the university’s cash flow and debt service ratios were in peril.

Full-time equivalent enrollment had slid from 1,387 in fall 2012 to 1,267 last fall, the university said. More than 200 did not return for spring.

Working to turn around

Despite the problems, Suber was named as a semi-finalist for the presidency at Florida A&M University in January. Days after her candidacy was revealed, she dropped out of the running.

“As flattering as the invitation is, I am committed to serving the students and continuing the projects, development and expansion of Saint Augustine’s University,” she said at the time.

Earlier in the week, Gaddy said the board was thoughtfully and methodically working to turn the situation around at St. Aug’s. He said there was no animosity between the board and Suber but said it would be unfair to talk publicly about “some of the very confidential things we are talking about as a board at this point.”

In her statement Friday, Suber said: “I want to thank everyone who has walked this journey with me. It has not been easy and, we have stumbled a time or two, but ‘still we rise.’ 

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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