Over the past several days, the Augusta community has watched Paine College go from losing its accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to suddenly having that decision temporarily reversed by a federal judge.
The 135-year-old university is facing a tough reality.
Currently, the college is still on probation and it has an uphill battle to keep its accreditation. The honest truth is, the college needs money, major dough, to prove to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges that it is financially stable.
So, the obvious question is: Where will that money come from?
Dr. Samuel Sullivan, president of Paine College, told the community last week that he was extremely proud of the fact that the university had raised more than $4.1 million over the past year.
But, in the eyes of the SACSCOC, it still wasn’t enough.
The commission saw that $4 million boost this year as “one point on a graph,” and “a trend that does not make,” Sullivan explained.
“We are saying, ‘Give us a break. Give us a chance. Let us continue to show that this community supports this school to the extent that we would have money year after year,’” Sullivan said.
All right, folks. It’s time to read between the lines.
Sullivan is publicly saying this community needs to support Paine to the extent that the college will have money “year after year.”
Chances are, Sullivan is not talking about only private dollars.
Paine College, a private university affiliated with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church, is looking for the city’s financial support, a.k.a. taxpayer money.
At the beginning of this year, Sullivan and representatives from Paine College met with City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson to discuss the fact that the university needed to raise about $3 million to help get its finances in order.
But the Augusta Commission hasn’t been anxious to address the issue.
Some commissioners, such as former Paine College alum Bill Fennoy, strongly support financially helping out the university.
In fact, Fennoy was very vocal in the fact that he wanted Paine College to receive money through the city’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds last year.
But many other commissioners insisted that Paine College is a private institution that needs to stand on its own two feet.
Now, if you ask Sullivan how he feels about the city’s support, he’ll say he is “satisfied” with it thus far.
But the only man in the audience during Paine College’s public meeting this past week who was straight-up honest about the university’s needs from the city was former Paine College professor Dr. Mallory Millender.
He wasn’t shy and spoke frankly during the meeting.
In this week’s feature story, “Tough Road Ahead for Paine College” in the Metro Spirit, Millender said he was disheartened by the fact that only one of the Augusta commissioners had attended the meeting at Paine College this past week.
Only Commissioner Dennis Williams was present in the audience. The other nine commissioners and Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis weren’t in attendance.
Millender said he knew every single one of the commissioners, as well as the mayor, and he was highly disappointed that they haven’t taken a more vocal stand on the future of Paine College.
“It takes six votes to do anything in Augusta,” Millender said. “We have six black commissioners. They can do anything they want to do. I have said this before, they can save Paine College or they can allow Paine to die.”
Dr. Mallory Millender
You can’t get more blunt than that, folks.
Millender is telling the six African-American commissioners in Augusta to step up to the plate and fork over some serious dollars for Paine College.
Talk about political pressure.
Basically, Millender is saying: If you are black, you need to vote to give Paine College money.
Well, this shouldn’t be news to Millender, but the Insider needs to throw it out there just to make sure everyone is on the same page: The City of Augusta is not an affluent community. It does not have tons of money to spend at its leisure to support private institutions.
Frankly, this city is so poor it can’t jump over a nickel to save a dime.
Now, the city isn’t going bankrupt.
It has one of the best directors of all time handling its money with Finance Director Donna Williams. But she’ll be the first one to tell you that the city can’t afford to donate millions and millions of dollars to a private cause, no matter how historically significant Paine College is to Augusta.
Of course, Millender is correct on one fact. Six votes can do “anything” in Augusta. Even bankrupt the city if it wants to.
But Millender didn’t stop there. He insisted that Paine College deserves the City of Augusta’s support.
“That’s our money,” Millender said. “We need our money.”
While that is a very dramatic statement, it’s not accurate.
Many of the students, faculty and even alum at Paine College do not contribute a tremendous amount of money to the city’s tax base.
The majority of the money comes from downtown businesses and residents in the Hill area and west Augusta.
That’s just a fact.
That’s not to say that Paine College doesn’t need help. There needs to be a continued, concerted effort by community leaders to help raise private dollars for the historic college.
But to say that the city’s tax dollars are “our money” to a small group of Paine College students and alumni is misleading.
Here’s the harsh truth: Paine College needs money. But Paine College doesn’t deserve taxpayer dollars.
Augusta needs to come up with a different method to save Paine College.
Otherwise, the university will die.