When the Paine College Board of Trustees announced this week that it had unanimously selected Dr. Jerry Hardee as the finalist to become the next president at the university, many students at Paine College had mixed emotions.
While Hardee, a retired college president and educator from Valdosta, seems more than qualified for the job, a lot of students and faculty at Paine are extremely fond of the current president, Dr. Samuel Sullivan.
He has been a rock when the college desperately needed one.
But Sullivan, who came out of retirement and accepted the position as president, had a one-year contract that ends this June.
And Sullivan chose not to reapply for the president’s job.
Even though some people at Paine won’t want to see Sullivan go, they are grateful for what’s he done for the university.
Sullivan took the reality of Augusta’s historically African-American college possibly losing its accreditation to heart.
He fought back against the decision handed down to Paine by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (or SACS) and he not only kept the university afloat, but he strengthened it.
While the college is still on probation, it’s definitely making progress.
Sullivan worked to remove the dark cloud over the university left by its former president, Dr. George Bradley.
It was under Bradley’s leadership that Paine College was first placed on probation by SACS because the university was found to be in violation of several standards including fiscal stability, control of finances and the handling of federal student financial aid programs.
An anonymous website called The Paine Project claimed Bradley brought “unprecedented mismanagement to the college’s financial and fiscal affairs, and intimidation and threats to faculty, staff and students.”
When Sullivan took over after Bradley resigned, he met the problems head on and was surprisingly honest with not only the students and faculty at Paine College, but also the community.
Last fall, Sullivan held a two-hour public meeting at the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel on Paine College’s campus to talk about the accreditation of the 135-year-old university.
“I’m here to answer any questions you have,” Sullivan told the audience filled with former and current students, as well as concerned citizens. “No question is out of bounds. I will let you know what I know. I won’t try to sugarcoat anything. I just want you to know that we are here to continue to be as open as we can, be as transparent as we can and to be as honest as we can about our fight.”
He told the audience that when he took over as president, he discovered the college had accounts receivable of $2.3 million, meaning students owed the university $2.3 million in tuition money from previous years.
Sullivan said he also found that school borrowed a lot of money from a line of credit to assist with its operational needs.
“We owe a lot of people a lot of money,” Sullivan told the audience last year. “We find ourselves in a lot of debt.”
Specifically, Sullivan said the university had purchased several apartment buildings a few years ago that the college had to sell to help pay off some of the money it owed.
The university also began a football program a few years ago under Bradley’s leadership, but the college abandoned the team in 2015 because it was costing the college approximately $1 million a year.
Despite these financial setbacks, Sullivan still managed to raise more than $4.1 million over the past year to increase the college’s financial stability.
He simply never gave up.
“We get knocked down many times in our lifetime, but we always get up and we always stand up and stand for something,” Sullivan told the students at Paine College. “And that is what we are about here at Paine: Standing for something.”
And the amazing thing about Sullivan during that two-hour meeting was he promised the students, “I will stay here until every question is addressed. If I don’t have the answer, I will get you the answer.”
Sullivan truly cared about Paine College and, let’s be honest, he didn’t have to.
With more than 50 years of experience in higher education, Sullivan was thoroughly enjoying his retirement prior to coming to Paine.
“For three years, I was retired, doing whatever I wanted to do. I was also playing golf three times a week,” Sullivan recently told the Metro Spirit. “I played in a group. We had a tour through Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Myrtle Beach and Tampa.”
But when he got the call from Paine, Sullivan said he thought he could help.
“I believe in my heart that this was a calling,” Sullivan said. “I believe in my heart that over the now 50-plus years that I’ve been in higher education that the Lord has prepared me for this particular challenge.”
Thank you for all of your hard work, Dr. Sullivan.
And best wishes to Dr. Hardee as he completes his contract negotiations with the board to become the new president at Paine.
You have some big shoes to fill.