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The Real Scandals behind an HBCU: The Arkansas Baptist College Controversy

The Shadowy Foundation that does not Exist Arkansas Baptist College, under the BOT and Hill has perhaps more value as a pawn for money laundering and sweet heart real estate deals, than it has as one with informed students, dynamic teachers, and ethical ...

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A cluster of overlapping companies was investigated that had some relationship with the ABC Foundation before 2013 when its paperwork began not to be kept upThese included: Buffalo Development LLC, Turner Development LLC (Robert Turner), African Bean Company (DrHill’s company with the same initials as Arkansas Baptist College – good for depositing checks written to “ABC”), Billy Jones ConsultingEGP was not able to get appropriate records for these overlapping companies, payroll records, and employee job descriptions. ABC’s college mascot is the BuffaloDrHill in no way identifies as an “African” in any honorable wayUnder these organizational premises while Arkansas Baptist College could not pay its light bills, DrHill and associates took out loans to build two modest buildings (one never fully paid for) and purchase large empty lots around the collegeMost prominently Hill purchased an antiquated hand carwash and prominently displayed the college’s name on that lot – he has bragged this was a contribution to fighting crime and drugs! It is notable that a prominent African American, Judge Wendell Griffin, who is critical of police brutality, supports the idea of Black Lives Matter, and whom used to be on the ABC BOT, moved that Hill be fired for criminal activitiesThe judge was outvoted and resigned in disgust. What did DrJones’s Administration Step Into? DrJones, it was hoped by the BOT, as a young first-time college president, would be inexperienced enough to not understand, enable, or be made the scapegoat for the long trail of abuses Hill and the BOT created before his arrivalThis is not to suggest DrJones did all he could to draw the line as an anti-corruption president, in the public arena, between his administration and the previous Hill regimeHe actually adhered too much to normative professionalism and protocols, and this led to his demiseA reconsideration of how “professional” we wish our HBCUs to be is necessary, as many undoubtedly wish to take pride in them. DrJones, early in his administration, found many operational peculiarities that he tried to fixHe uncovered a grade fixing scandal with an undergraduate student as the Assistant RegistrarFootball coaches collected ticket and concession revenues and took them to their homes as opposed to the Chief Financial Officer and/or Business Office representative immediately following the gameOverspending and inventory irregularities persisted by the executive director of the dining hall, who is known to have her own catering business, and campus security issues remained prevalent on the campus, including repeated gun and domestic violence incidences. DrJones came into conflict with the BOT regarding the mission of the schoolAccusing DrJones of changing the ABC mission, what the BOT really meant was Hill and the BOT actually re-branded the college as a place for “low-performing,” “low-income” pariahs to come and be “rehabilitated” i.ea half-way of sorts for sub-standard football playersThe BOT repeatedly attested that young Black men could not attain a standard liberal arts educationThey dishonestly equated cultural criticism of standardized tests with the idea that young Black men cannot achieve or learn by any measure recognizable by Black HistoryFurthermore, Hill and the BOT were never serious about developing reading, writing, research, and public speakingThey assumed the descendants of slaves, found at HBCUs, could never express themselves vibrantlyHow did Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B Wells, Ralph Ellison, Paul Robeson, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Alice Walker figure this out? DrHill left DrJones with a student body that he recruited in Detroit and Chicago by essentially welcoming all to “get on the bus.” The previous administration, who struggled to process financial aid forms themselves, accumulated many students who had minimal basic skills. DrJones, who grew up in Los Angeles, welcomed students who might not be prepared for college – as he initially was notBut he insisted when students come to college, they need “not only see themselves” but be exposed to peoples and cultures that are new to themHBCUs needed to provide a sense of wonder and possibility. DrJones also tried to internationalize the education at ABCHe affiliated the college with the American Council on Education and created an international studies awareness weekHe was struggling to attract faculty rooted in traditions which have deep awareness of African and Caribbean history and that questioned empireReportedly, some students experienced some innovative programs that allowed them to discuss comparative religion, migrant workers, the Haitian Revolution, the music of Trinidad and Jamaica, Nkrumah’s Ghana, Selassie’s Ethiopia, and the experience of Blacks in Montreal, CanadaStudents were also encouraged, for the first time in years, to study abroad and consider studying foreign languagesThere was also talk about getting involved in Caribbean disaster relief, which reinvigorated ABC’s few international students, and the promise of recruiting more to the campus. DrJones was not fired because he threatened a system of hustles in the dining hall, tried to rein in the patronage schemes of ABC’s losing football program, ended grade fixing or put books back in the library and tried to get Black students to study abroad and care about the African worldDrJones’s real crime, was his that administration’s accounting practices were so transparent, despite having to “afro-engineer” bills left by Hill, that the masterminds behind Hill feared he would uncover how Arkansas Baptist College was seemingly being used by Arkansas politicians, Big Business, and financial elites even as they made donations that the college rarely benefited. If such a cast of prosperous characters could have paid all the college’s debts and started a proper endowment, and they cared so much about Black education, why did they not do so? The Shadowy Foundation that does not Exist Arkansas Baptist College, under the BOT and Hill has perhaps more value as a pawn for money laundering and sweet heart real estate deals, than it has as one with informed students, dynamic teachers, and ethical administrators who don’t seek to enrich themselvesThe shadowy non-profit college foundation, with a now 4-year long lapsed 501(c)3 status, could be central to uncovering the greatest scandals of them all. DrFitz Hill assumed the presidency of the college’s foundation at the same time of DrJones’s appointment as the president of the college, September 1, 2016Some who most likely helped Hill organize this opaque entity before Hill left his post as the college president, were former ABC Board Chair Beth Coulson of Coulson Oil, who was also a judge appointed by Bill Clinton (whose foundation is currently under scrutiny), and former BOT member Bob Childress, a prominent CPA in Little Rock, also a Clinton appointeeAnonymous sources relay that Coulson and Childress were in conversation with other figures in the foundation machinationRegina Favors, a former Blue Cross Blue Shield executive and Clinton appointee and a former chair of the ABC BOT, Barry Griffith, and Bill Dilliard III were part of this dialogueWhit Penick, Senior VP of First Security Bank, the college’s primary capital projects and short term lender, like Favors and Griffith, was approved by the ABC BOT to be on the foundation board shrouded in mystery. Given their professional track record and expertise, and the Board members’ fiduciary responsibility, how is it that Hill was allowed to head an entity that not only failed to maintain its tax exempt status, but it is still revoked currently? Does the college foundation that has a public track record, albeit operationally flawed, act as a front organization for another? How could donors give to a foundation with no tax-free status and receive their write-off? Are they in fact giving to another unknown entity? Were Hill and Board members reaping personal benefits in some way? The obscuring of sources of money, either intentionally or by not tracking sources or destinations properly happened at the height of DrHill’s regime, where obviously the lack of 501(c)3 status implicates not only Hill and the foundation Board, but also donors to the foundation and the College’s BOT since the Foundation Board reports to the College BOTAlso noteworthy is most anti-money laundering laws are concerned with the source of funds and the ethics of what is being financed or the destination of funds. DrHill made many land purchases in the name of the college from 2006-2016, most of which, as public records confirm, had no value corresponding to what he paid for themAll of these deals were done while the college consistently could not pay its light and phone billsUnder Hill, ABC made land deals with the Massey family which is also his primary benefactor and is thought to be a major spirit animating the invisible foundationRichard NMassey is the former college BOT treasurerAnother land transaction, with Right Development LLC, is the company of attorney Richard L Mays, a longtime member of ABC’s BOT, who was appointed by Bill Clinton to the Arkansas Supreme Court and has served on the Arkansas Ethics CommissionOne of the largest land purchases under Hill’s tenure was from Abraham Carpenter Sr., an African American produce supplier to Wal-Mart and KrogerA five-year loan was floated by Summit bankDrew Harper, at the time executive vice president of Summit, was on ABC’s BOT. Considered unethical because it is not in the best interest of the larger community of stakeholders, a sweet heart deal is one where one party in a business transaction is presented with very attractive terms and conditionsWhether we read these land purchases under Hill as “sweet” or not, clear conflicts of interest exist between Board members and the college’s presidentWhomever accumulates wealth from such transactions, and knows that the college cannot pay its bills except by acquiring more debt, is acting unethically. During the Jones administration the BOT insisted that all purchases over $5,000 would have to be approved by themThe BOT is required to keep publicly accessible minutes for all their meetings by lawWhere is the documentation of the BOT’s approval of numerous land purchases at values of $10,000 to $285,000 under DrHill from 2006-2016? It has not been in the interest of the Arkansas Baptist College community to bankrupt the school through exorbitant loans supposedly to pay its debtsIn reality these loans have been used to accumulate private wealth in the name of community development. A suspenseful story to be sure, this may reveal that there is in fact, no community around our HBCUsThere are of course over-lapping spaces: church-going folks who have a common history, young people searching for their identity and future, and those who advance themselves using decaying institutions and marginal people as their capital in a climate of hearsay and gossip. The Black elite that run our HBCUs, even when they quarrel among themselves, do not believe they can trust ordinary Black people - the teachers, campus workers, students, and neighbors - to organize themselves and lead their own community institutionsWhether stealing or not, they keep information from us that impedes community control; Black faces in high places is not Black mass-democratic power. A dynamic self-governing community would educate themselves, with transparent information, and root out the criminalsThe abolition of the professional classes, the minority that rules above us, as the embodiment of culture and government, is imperativeThose with formal education can adviseBut we should probably not trust such people unless they advocate free tuition (not financial aid and debt) for all students, and unless they wish no coveted position beyond our authority and limited means. Moreover, our HBCU students, workers, and surrounding neighborhood need to organize themselves into popular responsibility councils and assembliesWe need not be invited to “participate” by anyone but must take the initiative to take over these campuses, the land, and resourcesWe need to choose our policies first, based on new values different than those held by these Black elites, then organize ourselvesOnly after do we choose our own leadersWe should make HBCU leaders subject to instant recall when they are found to make a mockery out of the project of Black self-relianceThis approach might clarify the scandals found at all HBCUs not just at Arkansas Baptist College. 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