Joseph Jones ousted as Arkansas Baptist College president UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Monday, December 18, 2017

Joseph Jones ousted as Arkansas Baptist College president UPDATE

Posted By on Mon, Dec 18, 2017 at 12:51 PM

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The Board of Trustees  of Arkansas Baptist College has terminated college president, Dr. Joseph Jones, who'd led the campus for about a year.

I was tipped on the firing by an anonymous source while I was out of the country last week. KATV reported the firing on Twitter this morning and I've since confirmed that through an official who said Jones told top officials of his termination by the Board of Trustees at its monthly meeting last Thursday.

Who's in charge of the college now? "We don't know," my source said.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon, I reached Dr. Jones. He said, contrary to representation you'll read further along, that he had resigned the job Friday in an email to the Board of Trustees' executive committee. Sunday, he said, the Board sent him an email saying he had been terminated "for cause," but it listed no cause. As a consequence, he said, "I have hired legal representation. i will be re-engaging them on that level." He declined further comment. He'll be represented by Omavi Shakur, an associate of civil rights lawyer John Walker.

No general announcement was made to college staff and students of Jones' departure.

This follows a report earlier this month of cash flow problems that delayed staff paychecks this month. That payroll is still delayed.

The college has been coping with financial difficulties since a major growth spurt under the leadership of the presidency of Fitz Hill. Enrollment grew and so do did campus facilities, in part thanks to some significant private donations, but when Hill departed it was still on uncertain footing, despite a major federal loan that paid off private lenders and bought the college time to right finances. Enrollment has fallen and the college is under federal monitoring that delays transfer of federal student payments.

The campus is roiled internally, with a faction supporting Jones and raising questions about continuing influence over the college by people aligned with Hill's tenure. When Hill left, he was said to be expected to take a leadership role in fund-raising for the school. Federal records show no current nonprofit registration for the Arkansas Baptist College Foundation and it is not believed to be currently contributing support to the school.

The college has had recent reviews by a national accrediting agency and the federal Education Department. Sources supportive of Jones said those agencies had made positive remarks about improvements under his tenure.

Eventually, Dr. Kenneth Harris of Arkadelphia, chair of the board, confirmed Jones' termination last week "for cause" and issued a brief prepared statement.

It said the board had "lost confidence in Dr. Jones' leadership and judgment." It said the firing was "predicated on his lack of transparency with the Board on issues that could place the Board and the institution at significant risk of financial and legal jeopardy."

He didn't elaborate, but Bill Walker, a new member of the Board and a former state legislator and state agency leader, added some details. He said the final issue that led to board action, was the college's falling behind on payment of federal withholding, a serious issue we "have to correct." He confirmed the November payroll was paid late and the December payroll, due to be paid at the end of the month, may be late too unless the college can arrange a short-term loan to cover it. Walker said college "overhead" had to be reduced because of the smaller enrollment, but he also said he hoped to see a return of the recruiting effort of Hill's days as president. Walker also said Jones declined an offer to be allowed to resign rather than be fired.

Defenders of Jones contend that the college's problems in making payroll tax withholding predate Jones' arrival and plans were in place to cover the amounts owed with federal money due in January.

Board chair Harris said Dr. Howard Gibson, former vice president of academics at the college, will serve as interim president and the Board will launch a search for a new leader "as expeditiously as it can."

On a couple of other points, Harris confirmed that the college foundation currently lacks 501c3 status, but is "in the process of getting it reinstated" and Hill is leading it. He said the foundation lost nonprofit status when it changed focus from an original purpose of providing a vehicle for participation in a new market tax credits plan in which contributors could get tax credits for charitable donations.

He disputed those who saw the move as a return to Hill-era leadership. "Nothing has been determined in terms of personnel changes" except Jones' termination. He also said the college had received no "official word from either entity" on whether recent reviews of finances went well. That they did would just be "reflections" of campus staff who participated in the meeting, not "official feedback."

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