October 24, 2014

Education

Cloud of Turmoil

Edward Waters College stumbles again just as it began to bury its troubled past.

Bob Snell | 3/1/2005
In seven years as president of Edward Waters College, Jimmie Jenkins led the school from the brink of academic and financial bankruptcy to the threshold of respectability.

Enrollment at the historically black college had risen from 300 to 1,300, decaying campus buildings had been refurbished and a football team -- the Tigers -- had taken the field. Jenkins dubbed Edward Waters the "rising star" on Jacksonville's Northside.

Now, an embarrassing plagiarism scandal has sent the school's star waning again. Edward Waters recently lost its accreditation, ambitious expansion plans are in peril, and Jenkins has resigned after being publicly admonished.

Alumni pushed for Jimmie Jenkins' resignation since December, when the school's accreditation was revoked.

"I must take full responsibility for the fact that there was a lack of administrative oversight," Jenkins said in offering his resignation.

Prior to Jenkins' arrival, Edward Waters College -- founded in 1866 to educate freed slaves -- had few academic credentials. Teacher paychecks routinely bounced, and many of the school's buildings were crumbling. The Kings Road campus was an afterthought in Jacksonville's corporate boardrooms.

Jenkins immediately sought to reshape the college's image. He stabilized its financial position and announced far-reaching plans to repair and expand facilities. He also forged alliances with business and political leaders, many of whom were attracted to Jenkins' enthusiasm and vision of an inner-city success story. Within a year, Jenkins won financial contributions from several corporations, most notably railroad giant CSX.

Then, last April, a student was gunned down on campus just one day after submitting an English paper that complained about violence, drugs and a lack of campus security. Several months later, the school's popular men's basketball coach was nabbed in a prostitution sting. In October, it was revealed that portions of the school's application for accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had been copied word for word (including numerous statistics) from a document submitted by Alabama A&M University. The agency launched an investigation and in December voted to revoke Edward Waters' accreditation. The school appealed.

Auditors also said the college lacked "qualified administrative and academic officers with the experience, competence and capacity to lead the institution," though it did not name individuals.

Without the association's blessing, students will lose federal financial aid, and many colleges and employers may not recognize Edward Waters degrees and credits. School officials are bracing for a sharp decrease in enrollment. Several staff members have already been laid off.

Jenkins, however, remains positive: "I am proud of the accomplishments that were made under my leadership. The college is now poised to make a quantum leap."

Tags: Northeast, Education

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