Kentucky President resigns amid financial anxiety

The president of Kentucky State University resigned Tuesday as the board prepares to bring in an external auditor to review institutional finances.

Mr. Christopher Brown II, who had been president of the university since 2017, offered his resignation at a special board meeting. The board, with two absent members, unanimously agreed.

“We anticipate a cordial, collaborative and transparent transition and wish Dr Brown the best of luck as he follows his interest in other professional pursuits,” said Elaine Farris, Chairman of the Board of Directors, in a written statement.

The Board of Directors has asked Clara Ross Stamps, Senior Vice President, Brand Identity and University Relations, to serve as Interim President, effective immediately. The board will discuss the search for the next president of the university at its next meeting in September.

“As the Kentucky State University community comes together, with a renewed appreciation for the atmosphere of our college campus and a commitment to our mission and core values, I am humbled and energized by the opportunity to serve our students and our community after what has certainly been a time of unprecedented change, ”Stamps said in a statement Tuesday.

The historically black public university of Frankfurt has not publicly disclosed any information about possible financial problems, but recent actions by the Board of Regents suggest the university is not in perfect financial health. The head of the Lexington Herald recently reported that several unnamed regents have approached Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear over concerns about the college’s finances.

“Administration officials have been in contact with the regents and the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education to gather more information on the issues they have raised,” Beshear’s office said in a statement.

Beshear signed an executive order Tuesday afternoon directing the Council on Post-Secondary Education to review the state of Kentucky’s finances. Following the review, the board will help the university “develop a management and improvement plan with measurable goals and parameters, which will be submitted to the CPE for approval,” according to a press release. The board will also make recommendations to the board regarding the administrative structure and leadership of the university.

Regents called Tuesday’s special meeting to appoint an external auditor to review the university’s financial situation. The institution is expected to begin work soon on a 500-bed residence, which will cost $ 50 million.

Brown’s abrupt resignation and news of the university’s uncertain financial health apparently came out of nowhere, said Danny Collum, professor of English and secretary of the faculty’s Senate. Faculty members were recently told that the university is in good shape.

“It was a surprise,” he said. “What we were hearing is that we are in the dark, we had no red flags during the audit, the registrations were stable.”

The university announced in April that it had received a positive financial audit for fiscal year 2020, which ended last summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of Kentucky, which maintains an operating budget of $ 49 million, entered fiscal 2021 with a budget surplus of $ 2.3 million and a $ 3.5 million increase in its endowment from 18 , $ 5 million, according to the audit.

“The state of Kentucky continues to be in a healthy financial position despite the health crisis and significant economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak,” the university statement said in April. “From a financial standpoint, officials at Kentucky State University expect to be able to fully teach all teaching and provide a wide range of student services over the next academic year, despite an environment very difficult tax. Kentucky’s conservative fiscal discipline over the years has resulted in healthy liquidity, plentiful reserves and a manageable debt burden, allowing the state of Kentucky to be able to weather downturns. economic.

Brown’s latest performance review, released by the board in January, suggested the board was happy with his performance at the time. That said, the board gave Brown several finance-related recommendations, including strengthening private fundraising, improving accounts payable cycle time, developing a financial dashboard for regents, and “lead. a comprehensive review of university budget development and monitoring processes transparency, accountability and alignment with best practice in higher education.

Kentucky State University is the second institution where Brown has stepped down as president. While president of Alcorn State University in Mississippi, Brown was placed on administrative leave after receiving criticism for spending $ 89,000 on the presidential residence without a proper auction, the Mail-Journal reported. He resigned shortly after.

Brown’s resignation has cast doubt among Kentucky state faculty, some of whom are now concerned about the university’s finances and preparing for the next presidential search, Collum said. Kentucky State employees were frustrated with the research process Brown was hired through in 2017. They were put off by Brown’s previous resignation from Alcorn State, and many faculty members were upset by the fact that the list of finalists did not include Aaron Thompson, the beloved interim president at the time.

“We need to know more about our university,” he said. “Will the next fiscal year look like the projected budget just approved? This is going to be of great concern to us.

A Kentucky state spokesperson did not return a request for further comment on Tuesday.

The university is also grappling with a handful of lawsuits, several of which name Brown. One of the lawsuits ended with the payment of a $ 150,000 settlement by the state of Kentucky after a whistleblower claimed Brown had “inappropriately interfered with” in awarding a contract catering services to assist a losing bidder, the Mail-Journal reported. Other lawsuits allege sexual misconduct and student harassment by Kentucky state administrators and employees, as well as embezzlement of institutional and federal funds.

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