From the Worldwide Faith News archives

TV remarks sound false alarm for two black colleges

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 21 Feb 2003 13:53:48 -0600

Feb. 21, 2003 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
A seminary professor speaking on a recent television show mistakenly told
viewers that two United Methodist colleges were on the verge of closing and
asked all African Americans to send $5 each by the end of March to save them.

Carolyn Knight, an assistant professor at the Interdenominational Theological
School in Atlanta, appearing Feb. 8 on C-SPAN, named Paine College, Augusta,
Ga., and Bennett College, Greensboro, N.C., as two of five historically black
colleges that were "on the ropes" and "about to go under in a matter of
weeks." Her remarks were made on the "State of the Black Church," an annual
program of Tavis Smiley, a popular African-American television and radio
personality and commentator.

In her remarks, Knight said that if black America is serious about saving its
schools, then each of the nation's 32 million African Americans should write
a $5 check, "between now and the end of March ... to Bennett, or Paine
College, and it will save our schools. We cannot afford to lose another
historically black institution." Another panelist on the show urged all
African Americans to get their churches involved by sending donations to the
United Negro College Fund.

While some traditionally black colleges are in dire straits, and most need
donations for their coffers, neither United Methodist-related Bennett nor
Paine is about to close.   

"Dr. Knight was incorrect about Paine College," said Paine College President
Shirley A.R. Lewis. "The information is simply untrue. The truth is that
Paine College is not 'on the ropes."  She said the 121-year-old school has a
balanced budget, stable enrollment and an endowment of more than $10 million.
It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities.

Officials at Bennett College, one of two U.S. colleges for black women,
expressed gratitude that the Smiley show emphasized the need for supporting
historically black schools. The college has received a number of donations,
and letters of appreciation have been sent to each donor. "We wish to say
that we are truly thankful for every dollar that we received in support of
Bennett College," said Johnnetta B. Cole, president, in an open-letter
response to the television program.

However, she said it was "unfortunate" that Bennett was mischaracterized on
the show as "about to go under." "Bennett College is one of the schools that
was incorrectly portrayed as on the brink of closing because of financial
circumstances," she said. 

She acknowledged that while the school has been placed on a 12-month
probation by its accrediting body for financial reasons, "we are working
diligently to address the issues raised by the Southern Association for
Colleges and Schools." The 130-year-old school receives strong support,
including help from the United Negro College Fund, she said, and it invites
"all our sisters and brothers in African American churches and communities to
join in this support."

The alarm generated by Knight's comments among African-Americans compelled
Smiley to issue an apology during his commentary Feb. 18 on the "Tom Joyner
Morning Show," which is heard on more than 100 urban radio stations
throughout the United States.	   

Joyner, also a participant on the Feb. 8 show, is an advocate for black
colleges and a champion of the United Negro College Fund. Through his
foundation, a college is chosen each month to assist students with
scholarships and internships. In his remarks, he said that black colleges and
universities "need your money, they need your children and they need the
tuition to stay alive."

The Rev. Joreathea Capers, executive director of the United Methodist
Church's Black College Fund, called Knight's comments "completely unfounded."
"No historically black college or university related to the United Methodist
Church is 'about to go under in a matter of weeks,'" Capers said.

Eleven historically black colleges are related to United Methodist Church,
and all are fully accredited, Capers said. The United Methodist Board of
Higher Education and Ministry, which oversees the Black College Fund,
emphasizes credibility, accountability and integrity on the part of the
colleges, she said. "We cannot overemphasize the importance of the Black
College Fund ... in ensuring the viability of these institutions related to
the United Methodist Church."

Knight issued a personal apology for the "great disservice" her remarks did
to Paine College. In a letter to President Lewis, she expressed remorse for
any damage that she may have caused the college and stated that she had
intended to refer to another institution that has a similar name.  She said
she attempted to "state a specific action that the African-American church
and community could do with its vast financial resources, specifically given
the great challenge that Morris Brown College (Atlanta) is facing. Again, I
apologize that I was not clear and therefore misunderstood," she wrote.      

Morris Brown College, a historically black institution related to the African
Methodist Episcopal Church, lost its accreditation in late 2002, but it has
appealed to the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities. Pending
resolution of the appeal, the association said that Morris Brown has been
returned to the status it held before the Dec. 9 vote to terminate its
# # #
*Green is news director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based office of United
Methodist News Service.

United Methodist News Service
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