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VOL. 126 | NO. 238 | Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fisk Out on Probation as Accreditation Reaffirmed

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) – Fisk University's accreditation has been reaffirmed but a state board has put the historically black university on probation for one year to get its finances in order.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges announced Tuesday that it had reaffirmed accreditations for Fisk University and Tennessee State University.

Last week, a senior leadership team from Fisk made a presentation that addressed the cash-strapped university's financial stability.

"That presentation included strategic initiatives through increased revenue, which include meeting our goals for the annual giving program and kicking off our comprehensive campaign," Fisk President Hazel O'Leary said. "We believe the strong demonstration of progress made was a factor in Fisk's continuation of accreditation."

Fisk is also hoping to generate millions of dollars by selling a stake in a 101-piece art collection donated by the late painter Georgia O'Keeffe.

It is unclear how quickly the university will be able to complete a $30 million deal to sell a 50 percent stake in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark.

Under the agreement, the artworks – including O'Keefe's own 1927 oil painting "Radiator Building – Night, New York" – would alternate between being at Fisk and the Arkansas museum every two years.

A state appeals court ruling last week threw out a judge's requirement for Fisk to reserve two-thirds of the proceeds to ensure future upkeep of the collection amid the university's shaky financial circumstances.

Fisk officials argued at last year's trial that the school had mortgaged all of its buildings, was running a $2 million annual deficit and had no unrestricted endowment available. The opinion notes that when President Hazel O'Leary was asked whether Fisk was "viable" given the scope of its financial challenges, she responded, "No, not at all."

In the case of Tennessee State University, the school was placed on warning status last year because of issues related to institutional effectiveness.

An interim president was hired to focus on keeping TSU's accreditation.

The Tennessee Board of Regents said it will begin a national search for a permanent president at TSU next year in order to name a new one by next fall.

Regents Chancellor John Morgan said he believes the school's reaffirmation will help attract a strong group of national candidates.

"With the reaffirmation issue resolved and operational improvements continuing ... TSU will be in a great position as we begin the search for a permanent president next year," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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