HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — An evolution of concerns and frustration has brought many Oakwood University alumni and others with a connection to the school together.
“I am a concerned Oakwoodite so there’s no way that I would not be here today to express the concerns…in love, but in firmness,” Oakwood University Alumnus Dr. Sibyl Beaulieu said. “We are highly committed to this, the stance we’re taking – we want to see action.”
Concerned Oakwoodites, a group formed back in September, held a news conference Monday. They say they’re concerned about the current administration and its handling of finances.
“The science department here at Oakwood is absolutely amazing,” Oakwood University Alumnus Dr. Helen Powell-Stoddart said. “Dr. Vanderpool is the most amazing chairperson of the department, my daughter loves her. I want every department to be just like that one.”
A lack of transparency, accountability and corrective action is what compelled the group to make their concerns public.
Concerned Oakwoodites say they’re committed to supporting Oakwood and all its stakeholders.
The group wants Oakwood to survive its current challenges, and to thrive. For that to happen, they believe it’s imperative that the Oakwood University Board of Trustees and Administration must intensify their focus on the following:
- Faculty and Staff Retention: Oakwood reportedly has more than 60 job openings while also being under a hiring freeze. Current and former employees have complained about workplace conditions: no air conditioning in some buildings, ceiling tiles that need to be replaced, etc. Several high-ranking employees have resigned recently, at least one without having an employment option in place.
- Ethical Practices and Procedures: Some former employees have expressed concerns regarding expectations or orders that may not be in keeping with government policies and federal policies. We believe the integrity of our institution should never be compromised, for the sake of its students – past, present, and future.
- Student Enrollment and Retention: All the concerns we’ve presented jeopardize Oakwood’s ability to recruit and retain students. Students are the lifeblood of any educational institution. Their care and well-being should be paramount.
Concerned Oakwoodites Co-Founder David Person provided News 19 with a copy of an audit report for the years ending in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Person said a former Oakwood Board of Trustee member recently told him the school was $43 million in consolidated liabilities.
“There may be a way to explain it or contextualize it that would indicate that it’s not a threat to the university’s survival,” Person said. “I don’t know but I do know $43 million is not pocket change.”
Person tells News 19 a meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon for members of the group and the university’s board of trustees to sit down and talk about their concerns. Here’s a statement from the founders of Concerned Oakwoodites following their meeting:
We appreciate the invitation from Oakwood University Board Chair Dr. G. Alexander Bryant to meet with members of the Board regarding our concerns. We view it as a modest first step, though we believe it could have been more productive.
While we thank the board members’ for listening to and engaging with us, we are disappointed that we left without a board commitment to a specific course of action nor a timeline for receiving one. The good news is that while the Board deliberates, Concerned Oakwoodites also will be contemplating our next steps.
Hopefully, we can find common ground with the Board moving forward. But if not, we will remain vigilant in our efforts to promote transparency, accountability, and corrective action at our beloved Oakwood University.
Concerned Oakwoodites say the time for worrying about reputation is passed – and they’re not backing down until they save their university.
Oakwood University Alumnus Christel Lobbins says, “I know enrollment is lower than what it is was when I was a student here. I’d like to see enrollment grow as a result of that and our students want to attend Oakwood like we did when we were young.”Concerned Oakwoodites Founders
News 19’s Lynsey Smith reached out to Oakwood University ahead of Monday’s news conference for comment.
A spokesman with the university provided Smith with the following statement:
“The Oakwood University Board of Trustees, consisting of 40 members, held an eight-hour session today. They reviewed reports, institutional progress, and rumors surrounding the financial state of the University which were circulating on social media. The Board considered multiple allegations that were being made against the known facts of operating the institution. After reviewing the financial records of the University, the Board found that the multiple allegations were without merit and did not match up with the financial records. The Board focused on the financial challenges of the University during their Executive Session, which are being addressed in various ways and will be announced once the audit for this year is completed. The Board recognizes that faith-based education institutions face financial challenges, and Oakwood University is no exception.
The Board also appointed a cohort of Trustees to hear the concerns of a group that called themselves the Concerned Oakwoodites. Five members of the group presented their concerns to the Board’s representatives, and the Board promised to respond publicly after examining them. The Chairman of the Board, Dr. Alex Bryant, said, “This entire episode reminds us how important it is in the modern era to communicate more frequently with our stakeholders about the issues around which we feel mutual concern.”
In addition, the Board announced its intent to hold a major town hall via Zoom, which will be attended by alumni from across the country. The Board also plans to schedule multiple visits across the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, which are the major places from where the students come,” said Oakwood University Executive Director of Integrated Marketing and PR Norman Jones.Oakwood University
Stay with news 19 online and on-air as we receive any developments.