Morris Brown College proposes multimillion dollar deal to keep the HBCU afloat

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(image courtesy of Morris Brown College)

(image courtesy of Morris Brown College)

ATLANTA – The fight to keep Morris Brown College afloat continues with reports that the HBCU is proposing a $20 million plan to escape bankruptcy.

Morris Brown, Georgia’s first historically black college, has reached the multimillion dollar deal with FD LLC to restructure and reorganize the troubled school.

Court papers filed Friday outline the proposed deal, according to reports in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC). It comes less than a month after trustees turned down an offer of nearly $10 million in taxpayer money from the City of Atlanta.

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed offered the cash to try and eliminate the school’s huge debt. The campus is of interest because the city’s administration wants to regenerate the area to coincide with plans to develop a nearby Atlanta Falcons stadium.

At the time of the mayor’s proposal the college’s lawyer, Anne Aaronson, said the city’s offer was rejected because though it covered the debt it did not provide for operating costs.

This new multimillion dollar deal would make FD LLC a partner in the school’s recovery by buying some of its property and settling its outstanding debt, while it seeks re-accreditation.

The deal would also pay off the college’s creditors to the tune of $7.5 million. Another $7.5 million would be used to pay bond holders of the properties FD LLC plans to purchase.

The remaining $5 million would go toward the school’s operating costs after bankruptcy, which is crucial to Morris Brown’s to secure new accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

A bankruptcy judge still needs to approve the deal. The college is back in court on August 1st to defend its plans.

Benjamin Harrison, a communications consultant for Morris Brown, told theGrio that though the school is still not out of the woods, Preston W. Williams II, chairman of the board of trustees, who was appointed in August 2012, has made some calculated decisions.

“Chairman Williams has made several bold and calculated decisions to led Morris Brown College towards the direction of a prosperous future,” says Harrison.

“The reorganization plan in a federal bankruptcy court represents the next step in restructuring the outstanding debt of Morris Brown and reorganizing the school so that Morris Brown can move beyond its current difficult circumstances and move towards regaining its status as a premiere HBCU in the state of Georgia and the nation,” he adds.

The proposed deal “means that Morris Brown will be able to get accredited and survive,” Aaronson told the AJC.

Morris Brown lost its accreditation in 2002 after it was embroiled in a financial mismanagement scandal. The college was stripped of its accreditation and its students lost access to federal loans and other financial aid. This made it more difficult to attract its undergraduates and graduates, who mainly received aid.

The school was then forced to lower tuition fees, making it more dependent on financial donations.

Sidmel Estes, an Atlanta native, is the maternal granddaughter of Edward Caesar Mitchell, who served as president of Morris Brown in the early 20th century. “Morris Brown continues to struggle and it needs to make some hard decisions,” said Estes, whose mother, Emellen Mitchell, was also an undergraduate at Morris Brown.

Estes, a veteran journalist and adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University, adds that a number of HBCUs’ “are on the ropes” because of fierce competition to attract students and financial incentives offered at mainstream majority-white institutions.

At its height, Morris Brown enrolled nearly 3,000 students and was considered a premier historically black college. Today only a fraction of students attend the college and parts of the campus are boarded up.

Though less well-known than neighboring colleges, Spelman and Morehouse, Morris Brown is of significant historical importance.

Founded in 1881 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Morris Brown College, says in its literature that “it is the only institution of higher education in the state of Georgia founded by African-Americans.”

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