New A&T Chancellor Has Long Road Ahead

When N.C. A&T Chancellor Stanley Battle was named to the position last November, he said he wanted to make the school among the best in the nation. Little did he know at the time that the goal would begin with a rebuilding process.

Battle takes over a school that is mired in controversy due to a March 2007 internal audit that found more than $2 million in mismanaged funds or funds that were acquired by the school illegally. That includes mismanagement by a vice chancellor of more than $500,000 of the Future Engineering Faculty Fellowship, a federal grant by the U.S. Office of Naval Research to increase the number of doctoral candidates in engineering at historically black colleges and universities. The school could be required to pay some of that money back, and criminal charges are possible.

The internal audit, ordered by former interim chancellor Lloyd Hackley, also found evidence of poor oversight, nepotism, and forged documents.

Battle’s job is to place internal controls in the administration at N.C. A&T to insure that the audit problems are corrected. The larger problem could be restoring the public trust in the institution, and especially its leadership, after the audit’s release.

Part of the blame for the audit’s finding has been laid at the feet of former chancellor James Renick, who left last year to take a position with the American Council on Education. Members of the Board of Trustees told the Greensboro News and Record that the audit reflected Renick’s management style, which appeared to have been “hands off.”

The backlash of Renick’s management style was a decision by the Board of Trustees to rescind naming a new classroom building after him. Although board members said proper procedures in naming the building were not followed, it’s clear that the move was a reaction to the audit’s findings.

To the board’s credit, it is also accepting blame. Chairwoman Velma R. Speight-Buford told the News and Record that she takes “responsibility for the board not doing its job. The board was not asking questions.”

And the end result is a broken school and a situation that could take three years, according to Speight-Buford, to correct. Part of the restoration project was started by Hackley in seeking the audit.

But the hard work is still ahead for N.C. A&T and, now, Battle. Is Battle capable of bringing sound business leadership and trust to the institution? Only time will tell, but based on his past experience it’s fair to assume that Battle is capable of the task before him.

Battle faced a similar situation when he took over Coppin State University in 2003. At the time of his arrival, the school, part of the University of Maryland system, had received a financial audit that highlighted several problems within the school. Those problems centered on lack of internal controls.

Under Battle’s leadership, Coppin State improved its academic programs and obtained increased state funding to offset previous low support. The school also saw an increase in private giving and research grants.

Battle also worked on the internal issues, especially in the area of student payments, by sending overdue bills to collection agencies, canceling classes if a student had an outstanding balance, and hiring more employees to work on reconciling tuition accounts.

Even with these improvements, some problems still exist at the school, as was reported in a recent audit. In a May letter to the editor to the Baltimore Examiner, Battle said, “We have made exceptional progress, despite the challenges.”

Now, Battle must find ways to bring about “exceptional progress” at N.C. A&T. The challenge is daunting, but N.C. A&T, and Battle, have no other option but to improve the school’s financial standing.

In three years, the time Speight-Buford said it would take to emerge from the audit, the question for Battle and UNC leaders to ask will be whether the school’s leaders have instituted financial accountability. Taxpayers must demand an answer to that question.