Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) on July 13 named retired Judge Herbert Grimes its interim president following the unexpected retirement of his predecessor, Edison O. Jackson.
In addition to his new role as interim president, Grimes is the director of the school’s Center for Law and Social Justice.
Jackson, Bethune-Cookman’s sixth president, announced in early July that he would retire despite having one year left on his contract with the Daytona Beach, Fla. institution. Jackson will stay on at the school to aid in the transition until Aug. 31.
“I came to B-CU at a time when the university was broken and in need of radical transformation. Planning to only stay one year, I fell in love with the spirit of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Five years later, I am proud to say that together the Board and my administration have navigated the university through some of the most turbulent times in the history of higher education,” Jackson said in a statement. “B-CU has survived, has a strong financial and operational foundation and is strategically positioned for continued growth. Having turned B-CU around and after 50 years of leading educational institutions, it is now time for me to give the same attention and care to my family.”
Jackson’s early retirement, however, came amid some reported financial issues at Bethune. According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the school operated at a loss of $18 million from July 2015 to June 2016, has experienced millions in cost overruns for a new dormitory and had multiple downgrades to its debt ratings.
The university’s new president promised to operate in a transparent manner.
“We think it’s important that we clear the air to be able restore the confidence within not only the university but within the community itself,” Grimes told the News-Journal.
In May, graduating students turned their backs and booed during the commencement address of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who once mistakenly said that the founders of HBCUs were “real pioneers of school choice”-ignoring that HBCU’s were created out of the Black educational necessity caused by segregation.
In addition, the school is facing a lawsuit from its own Alumni Association over seating a member of the association on the school’s board of trustees, according to online news outlet Inside Higher Ed.
In the same statement announcing Jackson’s retirement, the university addressed concerns about its financial standing which, like Jackson’s statement, also appeared to be inconsistent, in some aspects, with local news reports.
“While many have questioned the university’s fiscal health, B-CU is stronger than ever,” the statement read in part. “Responding to the changes in the parent plus loan requirements and aged infrastructure, the university made strategic decisions in 2015 to invest and [sic] additional $17 million of its own resources into student scholarships, hurricane damage restoration, paid off a $3 million bank note and physical plant upgrades. These decisions have resulted in a 2016 operational surplus, return to record enrollments and increased retention.