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CASE STUDY: The Demise of St. Paul’s College

Will Football Tackle Paine College Like it Did St. Paul’s College

St. Paul’s College, a 124 year old historically black college located in Lawrenceville, Virginia, closed its doors in June of 2012, after the loss of SACS accreditation.  (See article – Southern Accreditor Strips St. Paul’s of Accreditation).  It’s 185 acre campus is now on the auction block to the highest bidder.  One of several reasons cited for its demise was its inability to handle mounting debt caused by operating losses.  Several written reports identified the initiation of football, after a 17 year hiatus, as solely responsible for $300,000 – 400,000 in annual operating losses at the college.  (See article – Historically Black Va. College Sees Hope in Sale).  According to the college’s 11th and final President, Millard “Pete” Stith, Jr., the decision to field a football team hastened the college’s demise.

Likewise, Paine has reconstituted a football program after fifty years away from the gridiron. Similarly, by all reports, the Paine football program is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year at a time when the college’s finances are in a precarious state of affairs and employee pay cuts and furloughs are the order of the day.

The non-financial fallout of the football program is that it has brought a class of individuals onto the campus who can hardly be described as academic scholars.  Reportedly, a significant number of the young men on scholarship and playing football for Paine had an “F” in some subject on their transcript when recruited from high school or another post-secondary institution.  This means that at some point these students are likely to be dismissed from Paine for academic reasons and will not graduate, further eroding the already abysmal graduation rate of the college.  The recent shootings on campus are both football and drug related.  Therefore, the college suffers both a financial and a reputational drain from its re-association with football and the bottom tier athletes that are available to a college like Paine attempting to re-establish a Division II football program.

The question then becomes how did football get re-introduced to Paine College? Was this a Board decision or a Dr. Bradley autocratic decision with no Board of Trustees vote or input?  Was there a cost/benefit analysis done and approved by the Board? Or was the decision on whether to re-start a Paine football program amateurishly and unprofessionally done with no real thought as to how it would be funded and the financial drain it would impose on the college. Our reliable sources indicate that the decision was driven, at least in part, by the nostalgic dreams of a couple of board members wishing for the glory days of decades past with no attention whatsoever to present day financial realities or the economic and non-economic ramifications of such a decision.

We at the Paine Project sincerely doubt that there are 2 people on Paine’s campus, let alone the Board of Trustees, who can recite the costs to the college of the re-introduction of a football program at the college.  This type of fly by the seat of your pants decision-making is what has landed St. Paul’s College on the auction block.  We have concluded that Paine’s football program can do nothing but add to the already heavy financial burden on the college at a time when it can least afford it.

So we ask the question, will the re-introduction of an ill conceived football program end up sacking Paine College for a huge financial loss and helping to cause the doors to close? Or is there some decision maker with the fortitude and strength of character to reverse a decision hurtling head first into fiscal ruin.  Or, alternatively, is it incumbent upon the stakeholders themselves, by legal means or otherwise, to clean house from the board level on down to get reasoned astute decision-makers at the helm.

Although it is not a sin to make a mistake, it is, however, a cardinal sin not to learn from your mistakes and those of others who have made the same mistake.  The recent lesson of St. Paul’s College should be a lesson that Paine College should heed, lest it end up in the same place – unaccredited, bankrupt and on the auction block.  There is no place for a fledgling football program at a college struggling for financial survival.  We say let those board members seeking to assuage their egos from the 1950s do so at their own expense and not at the expense of the future of Paine College.

Click on the following link for a short video on what Paine College will look like after loss of accreditation and bankruptcy: http://chronicle.com/article/Presiding-Over-a-Colleges/146479/


1 Comment

  1. Barbara Smith, Ph.d. says:

    I visited St. Paul’s College about three year’s ago and saw that demise was inevitable after alumni alerts similar to concerns being voiced by the Paine Defender and Paine Project. I applaud the Defender for this article and video. President Stith made wise decisions by removing non-essentials that are neither revenue generators nor fit competitive needs of HBCU institutions.

    A press conference is being held to announce the hiring of an athletic director, associate athletic director, assistant director of athletics, and senior woman administrator at a time when the college has also announced faculty and staff furloughs. My question is: Will these new job (Athletics vs STEMS) via a press release create educational and workforce advantages for Paine College students?

    “52% of American companies are having difficulty filling “mission critical” positions (Matt Ferguson, CareerBuilder). The urgency for leadership and accountability for what happens to students while at Paine and opportunities afforded to them via a standard bearer education received at Paine must take center stage. I take the information that I have read in the Defender as serious matters that must be addressed sooner versus later.

    A Concerned Paine College Graduate

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