Allen University continues to refuse to comment on why it fired its president last month, and its plans to replace her.
The school dismissed president Lady June Cole on Sept. 28, following a series of problems that began at the start of the fall semester and led to student protests involving inadequate air conditioning and the lapse of financial aid vouchers for books.
The following week, the Allen Board of Trustees hired Ernest McNealey, former president of Stillman College in Alabama, as interim president.
McNealey is the fourth president since 2010 for the historically black private university, located in the heart of Columbia. President Charles E. Young was dismissed in 2010 following an alleged sexual assault charge. He was succeeded by Pamela M. Wilson, the school’s first female president. Martin was followed by Cole in 2013.
As of this week, neither the university, Cole or the school’s denominational affiliation, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, has offered any comment on the firing of Cole or problems at the school, despite numerous calls and emails asking for information.
Problems first surfaced publicly at Allen in late August, when over 100 students held a protest involving conditions at the school.
At the time, Student Government President Ma’Kedric Funnie told WLTX that students were facing a host of issues.
“You have the printer issue, you have the AC issue, you have the financial aid being late, you have Wi-Fi not being as strong in certain rooms, which is one of the minor issues. We didn’t know exactly where the activity fees were going.”
Allen University junior Taylor Candice Salters echoed that statement in an interview with Free Times.
“Basically we were trying to figure where all the money’s gone that all the A.M.E. churches have put in, along with the students,” she says.
Lack of air conditioning made for a tough return to school, she says.
“When we first came to school, my teacher had to cancel class the whole day. I didn’t have class for like two whole days because it was so hot. We couldn’t sit in there without air.”
Classroom conditions have since gotten back to normal, according to several students interviewed by Free Times.
“I know they got the AC fixed in the library,” says freshman Kiera Veal, “and I don’t hear too many people complaining about that in the classrooms now.”
Dormitories are another matter.
“Some people will be hot and some people will be freezing cold,” says student Jurnes Preston. “There’s no in-between.”
“It’s hot, and we only have one fan,” says freshman Jada Johnson, “and since it’s hot in there it’s going to blow hot air.”
The lack of vouchers, which provide money to eligible students to purchase textbooks, has not yet been resolved, Salters says.
“This semester, they took all of the vouchers away from us,” she says. “The teachers were complaining, saying they need us to have books. … How do they expect us, young college students, to pay for books that costs two hundred and some dollars?”
While students work, she says, few would earn enough to purchase textbooks. Some of her own teachers have instead resorted to loaning students their own textbook or posting reading material online.
Sophomore class president Kierin Williams says she had to order her books online, although in her particular case they didn’t cost that much.
“That really wasn’t a deal breaker for me,” she says, “but at the same time it would have been nice if I could have gotten a book voucher.”
Junior Lexus Gittens had family resources when it came to getting textbooks.
“I have grandparents who take care of me,” she says, “but I know some people over here are not so lucky.”
The original protest, which presaged Cole’s firing, was about being heard.
Salters says she and other students met with Cole, but it was a mostly one-sided conversation.
“She would not allow us to finish our questions. She would jump right in — she would cut us off ... Certain questions we would ask her she never had an answer for.”
According to Salters, Cole said certain problems were beyond her control.
Cole sent out a media statement following the meeting: “The University, and both the Chairman of the Board and I have met with the student body. The issues will continue to be addressed aggressively and will be resolved expeditiously.”
But a month later, Cole was out.
Students, Salters says, were just as in the dark as everyone else as to why Cole was dismissed.
She wasn’t, however, especially sorry to see her go.
“My response was ‘I’m sorry she lost her job, but good.’ She didn’t care about us.”
Kierin Williams likewise describes Cole’s dismissal as a “relief.”
“That’s kind of harsh,” she adds, “but we didn’t see her doing really anything. With our new president, he is really making a lot of different moves.”
But questions surround how McNealey left his last job, at Stillman.
He resigned in December 2013 from the college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after a three-month leave of absence, according to published reports. No word was released publicly about why McNealey went on leave and then departed after 16 years of leading Stillman. A report in the Tuscaloosa News said McNealey “drew criticism from some alumni and faculty who blamed his leadership for the departure of staff, financial difficulties and declining enrollment.”
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