Norfolk State put on probation by accreditors

Free Press wire reports | 12/16/2014, 6 a.m.
Norfolk State University is one step away from losing its accreditation.

Norfolk State University is one step away from losing its accreditation.

It has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency.

That’s a downgrade from the warning status the university was given a year ago by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS.

The accrediting agency announced the action Tuesday.

A warning is the lowest level sanction that SACS can issue. The next most serious is probation. The last option is withdrawing an institution’s accreditation.

Belle Wheelan, the president of SACS’ Commission on Colleges, provided a general list of more than a dozen requirements for accreditation that the organization says NSU has not met. They included requirements related to NSU’s finances, its governing board, compliance with policies and controls and stability.

One specific example she cited: The university did not provide a finished audit for the fiscal 2014 year.

SACS will post a more detailed statement on NSU’s probation Dec. 18 on its website, www.sacscoc.org, and provide more details to NSU in writing in January, Dr. Wheelan stated.

Efforts to reach Thomas N. Chewning of Richmond, the rector of NSU’s board of visitors, were unsuccessful.

In December 2013, the historically black university established in 1935 was placed on warning status, nearly four months after NSU President Tony Atwater was fired by the board of visitors.

SACS, which accredits colleges in 11 states, opened an investigation into NSU in the spring of 2013 after a host of problems came to light, namely the school’s failure to finish financial audits for two consecutive years.

In a July 2013 letter, SACS said it had found evidence of “significant” problems with NSU’s administration, governance and finances.

It also raised questions about the university’s two-year nursing program, which earlier in 2013 was prohibited from adding students because too few of its graduates were able to pass a national licensing exam.

Since then, the university has spent more than a year on turnaround efforts.

A SACS team spent two days on campus in September 2013.

The university’s leaders were given until this September to submit a report demonstrating that they had corrected the problems. The decision to downgrade NSU’s status was based on that report, SACS officials indicated.

NSU Interim President Eddie Moore Jr. and Dr. Wheelan offered differing views of the decision.

Mr. Moore, a former president of Virginia State University and St. Paul’s College, defended the progress NSU has made under his leadership.

Dr. Wheelan called the downgrade very serious and said more concerns “have been raised.”

Mr. Moore said he planned to meet with his cabinet to discuss the next course of action.