Several faculty members at Bacone College have contacted MuskogeeNOW.com, claiming they were told last week the college might close, and that if the school didn’t get extra funding from the American Baptist Association, it would be forced to lay off around 75 percent of its staff within two weeks.
The extra funding, they say they were told by a Vice President, would fund faculty contracts through July 31, then close the campus down.
“That’s absolutely not true,” Erin Feller, spokeswoman for the college, said this morning. “It’s no secret that Bacone has been financially unstable for years, but we are working to fix that. We always get money from the ABA, but we’re not seeking any specifically to fund faculty contracts.”
Two professors reached by phone gave, word-for-word, the exact same answer to the question of whether they’d been notified of possible closing and struggles to fund faculty contracts: “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Lower-level staffers expressed surprise at the question and universally said they hadn’t been told anything.
One of the faculty members, who asked to remain nameless in this story, said outgoing college President Franklin Willis was “livid” that faculty members were told of the struggles. “He did not want this announced.”
We are pursuing this story.
UPDATE 5:21 PM: Bacone President Frank Willis said that while the school’s upcoming financial “hurdles” are “major,” it has plans in place that could avert the “doomsday talk” of laying off staff and closing.
“We are in the midst of a very tough deal right now,” he said. “There are things that have to happen in order for us to continue forward. Hopefully, everything will fall in place.”
The school has been financially struggling for years, he said, but recently the current administration has found ways to slow down the losses, saving half a million dollars this year over last year, he said. But doing that has required some difficult financial moves.
“We got a line of credit from the American Baptist Association,” he said, which helped last year. “We are asking them to open it again,” which is one of the things that must happen for the school to clear the financial hurdles it has coming.
“I was upset that the subject was brought up the way it was, because when they’re talking about laying 75 percent of the staff off, whoever said that, that’s doomsday talk,” he said, laughing when asked whether that was a “post-Armageddon” situation. “That’s a good analogy, but I don’t want to make light about the challenges in front of us. We have major challenges coming over the next five or six weeks, financial hurdles.”
That said, the layoffs being quoted are “what ifs”, and not “useful” for clearing the hurdles ahead, he said.
“People just start feeding on that stuff and it goes round and round,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, we will do the right thing by our students, our faculty and our staff.”