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Grumbling at Grambling

January 23, 2006

Alumni leaders of Grambling State University are circulating petitions calling for the removal as president of Horace Judson, who they charge is abusing his position and mismanaging fund raising operations. Despite support for Judson coming from the president of the university system of which Grambling is a part, alumni and community members vow to take their concerns all the way to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, if necessary.

“I have worked with Dr. Judson, and I used to support him,” James Bradford, president of the Grambling State University National Alumni Association, said Saturday. He noted that Sally Clausen, president of the University of Louisiana System – who is now defending Judson’s administration – had been urged by alumni leaders to hire him after a controversial tenure at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh that ended in his resignation two years ago.  

“But we made a big mistake,” said Bradford.  “We should not have supported him.”

Bradford, who has led the association since 1992, said that “hundreds of citizens who care about the university” have already signed a petition, first circulated last week, which makes serious charges against Judson and his top administrators.  Their biggest concern involves Judson’s recent creation of the Black and Gold Foundation as a clearinghouse to replace the university’s fund-raising operations. Critics argue that Judson has given himself too much authority over spending matters, with few checks and balances.  

One critic of the president, who is familiar with the administration’s creation of the foundation, said that as recently as January 4, the foundation was not set up in accordance with appropriate state and/or federal rules that govern nonprofit groups.

Nehemiah Smith, Jr., a graduate of Grambling who remains in close contact with several current and former employees at the university, included information about this concern in a recent newsletter he sent to alumni. “When the officers from the development office caught the fact that the [foundation] was operating without [a nonprofit registration number], they made the powers that be aware of it, thinking that it was an oversight,” he wrote. “They would come to find out later that it was not an oversight, but that it was common knowledge that there was no tax number.

“In an attempt to pull the proverbial wool over the officers’ eyes, they were given the GSU federal [federal] I.D. number thinking that they would not know the difference,” he continued. “A seasoned veteran and meticulous record keeper in the development office was later told by President Judson that they should ‘put any gifts into the Black and Gold Foundation because the tax I.D. number would be coming in two weeks.’”

On Friday, Ralph Wilson, a spokesman for the university, could not explain how much money has been raised by the Black and Gold Foundation, nor how closely Judson’s spending is monitored.  When asked about the charges that the foundation was not property registered, Wilson said, “I have no clue.” He said that he was “not sure” whether Judson or Owens have unrestricted access to the account as the alumni newsletter charges.  He directed specific questions to the university’s development office, but several calls went unreturned. Judson was not available for comment.

It was Judson’s financial management skill at Plattsburgh that Bradford said was a top reason alumni and others initially looked favorably upon him. Grambling had faced serious accreditation issues involving finances in recent years, but is currently in good standing with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting body. 

Employment practices are also at issue at Grambling, and some said that recent layoffs may be connected to issues stemming from the creation of the Black and Gold Foundation. At Plattsburgh, Judson caused a storm of controversy when he hired his wife to fill a position that she was previously denied. Judson ultimately resigned his presidency at Plattsburgh after a faculty union and other groups demanded votes on his leadership.

At Grambling, to help account for a $1 million loss in funds resulting from the devastating 2005 hurricane season, Judson said this month during an address to faculty members that he was forced to eliminate the jobs of seven employees, some of whom had been with the university for several years.

But Bradford, Smith and others question that statement. Smith wrote in a recent newsletter that some of the employees removed by Judson were the chief people within the administration who had some questions about financial ethics.

Vickie Jackson, former public relations director at Grambling, said that she was surprised to lose her job after working at Grambling since 1982. “The president had said that there would be some cuts, but the timing was the most shocking,” she said Saturday, noting that she was given little notice before her dismissal earlier this month.  “I’m also concerned about how the positions were determined for cutting.

Jackson did not indicate whether she had personally raised questions about Judson’s ethics.

“They have used this hurricane business to cover their tracks,” alleged Bradford.  “I think they wanted certain people out of there for certain reasons, and they found a good excuse to hide behind.”

When the mayor of Grambling, Louisiana, Martha Andrus, learned about the layoffs, she called for the city council to consider a resolution supporting the petitioners’ efforts to oust Judson, citing the administration’s lack of communication and the layoffs. However, Andrus recently changed her mind after Clausen, on Judson’s behalf, asked her to reconsider.  Andrus could not be reached for comment this weekend to explain how Clausen convinced her to table the resolution.

In an interview with The News-Star, of Monroe, Louisiana, on Friday, Clausen said that despite budget cuts statewide, Judson is expanding Grambling State’s campus and increasing enrollment.

In that article, both Clausen and Judson criticized Bradford, saying that the petition against the president has been motivated by Bradford’s desire to “control…the purse strings” at the university.

But Bradford, who noted that he is not seeking to be re-elected as alumni president after his current term expires this year, said this weekend that his only motivation is that Grambling does not “suffer because of corruption.”

“The truth will come out,” said Bradford.  “And the truth is on our side, not theirs.”

                   

 

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