The board of trustees at Wilberforce, the nation’s oldest private, historically Black university are the focus of a case accusing them of mismanagement of resources, conflicts-of-interest, and gross negligence. On behalf of the Wilberforce Faculty Association and Concerned Citizens of Greene County, attorneys Bob Fitrakis and Connie Gadell-Newton filed the case with the Ohio Attorney General last week.

The board of trustees has failed to include faculty, staff, and students in decisions affecting the university, said participants at the press conference last week where Fitrakis and Gadell-Newton formally announced the case.

“Communication could definitely be a lot better. We filed approximately 12 grievances without any replies or responses,” said Everett Jones, Professor of Piano, and secretary of the Wilberforce Faculty Association.

“In a collectively governing body such as a university with faculty, staff, students, and administration, along with upper administration, everyone has to work together for there to be success,” Jones said.

Wilberforce Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Daniel Iselaiye said the same thing.

“We have been working in a situation where there has been a breakdown in communication... It takes a lot sometimes for an administrator to sit down with the faculty and all the people and then say: ‘This is my problem. How do we solve the problem?’ It’s come to the point where every door is closed---no communication.”

The lack of communication goes against the university’s community governance model, said Gadell-Newton.

“Along with not involving the community in some of their decision-making for who to choose as president, they also did not do a national search for the best candidate for that position, and they’ve significantly overpaid a lot of the executives of the university,” Gadell-Newton said.

She said when it comes to pay, things have been different for faculty.

“The past few years they have been asked to go on furlough, to have their salaries cut and to accept making increased contributions to their own healthcare and to take cuts in their retirement funds,” Gadell-Newton said.

Jones said that in 2009 and 2010 faculty weren’t paid for 3 months.

“The university had trouble meeting payroll. It’s that type of crisis that has brought the executive committee (of the Wilberforce Faculty Association) to this point,” Jones said.

Gadell-Newton said this apparent corruption within the upper management of Wilberforce is a microcosm of what is going on all around the country.

“Since the economy crashed in 2008, it seems we’ve discovered there have been a lot of executives committing fraud. You see that with a lot of the banking scandals and other companies that have been mismanaged and corrupt in various ways. So it seems this is following that general trend of corruption,” Gadell-Newton said.

That corruption has taken a toll on the university, said Richard Deering, Associate Professor of Economics, and current president of the Wilberforce Faculty Association.

“ We had a very fine institution in the 1980s. We’ve been on a long slow decline, if you will, and that has been exacerbated by the two recent presidential administrations of Floyd Flake and Patricia Hardaway. And we have a board of trustees that has just not been involved and not set targets and goals for the presidents they have to achieve in order to be successful,” Deering said.

Helping to fix this problem is the purpose of filing the case against the board of trustees, said Gadell-Newton. She said unlike the situation with Antioch College, the university is not past the point-of-no-return.

“In the Wilberforce case, we have a chance to remedy some of the malfeasance and nonfeasance of the board before it reaches that state. So, we want to save the university before it reaches the point where it has to close. But in its current downward spiral, it’s in danger of that,” Gadell-Newton said.

Iselaiye said other faculty members, students, parents and concerned alumni shouldn’t give up on Wilberforce.

“The time we are in right now is very rough, but there’s an indication things will get better. Once we are able to identify our problem, then we will begin to find solutions.”