Saint Augustine's University's general counsel resigned last March amid concerns that members of the university's board of trustees were willingly violating school bylaws and accreditation standards.
In a letter obtained by the HBCU Digest, Attorney Charles T. Francis resigned as the university's lead attorney just five days after the board announced the departure of former SAU President Everett Ward and his replacement, Gaddis Faulcon as interim president.
Francis alleged that the board held meetings without notifying all members, and violated its bylaws and possibly broke its contract with Dr. Ward by removing the president and transferring executive authority to Dr. Faulcon without a two-thirds vote of the board's membership.
"Beyond the legal issues raised by the Board's purported action at the Special meeting on March 12, 2019, the Board's conduct raises serious questions of whether the appropriate distinction is being maintained between the responsibilities of the board in governance and the administration in administering and implementing policy," Francis, a managing partner of a Raleigh law firm, wrote in his letter. "In addition to these general corporate governance concerns, the board's actions raise questions of compliance with various (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges) Principles and Standards, specifically standard 4.2.b (Board/Administrative Distinction); 5.2.a (CEO Control) and 5.5. (Personnel Appointment and Evaluation). My experience has been (SACSCOC) takes the foregoing standards seriously and concern about compliance with these standards can lead to an inquiry resulting in disciplinary action by SACSCOC."
According to officials close to SAU administration, board chair James Perry is actively participating in school faculty and staff meetings and mandating personnel hiring and firing through personal orders or through orders given to Maria Lumpkin, SAU Chief Operating Officer who was appointed in September 2019 and is listed on the university's website as a liaison to the board.
Saint Augustine's was removed from SACSCOC probation in December 2018 after two years of monitoring for a lack of financial resources. The reaffirmation was granted months after trustees revealed a growing lack of confidence in Dr. Ward's leadership and a fear that the university would close in the face of dwindling enrollment.
Last fall, local media reports revealed that the university possibly owed third-party vendors more than $1 million for unpaid invoices.