Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Richmond Free Press
Saint Paul’s College no longer has a buyer. Saint Augustine’s University of Raleigh, N.C., has dropped plans to take over 125-year-old Saint Paul’s, its sister Episcopal affiliated school in Lawrenceville, 80 miles southwest of Richmond.
Taking Saint Paul’s officials by surprise, Dr. Diane B. Suber, president of Saint Augustine’s, announced the decision last Friday following a six-month review.
“After careful due diligence and much deliberation, Saint Augustine’s has decided … the acquisition is not a fiscally responsible option,” she stated in a release. “We concluded the acquisition … would significantly challenge the fiscal stability of Saint Augustine’s University.”
That decision was totally unexpected, according to Dr. Oliver W. Spencer Jr., chairman of the Saint Paul’s board of trustees and superintendent of Brunswick County Public Schools.
“We had anticipated that as a result of our discussions and planning, we would be moving forward with the possible merger acquisition process.”
Dr. Spencer stated in a released posted on Saint Paul’s website Monday. Despite the setback, he vowed that the board would “continue to pursue all options, including continuing discussions with the Saint Augustine’s board.”
Dr. Spencer issued the statement a day after the school awarded about 60 degrees at its 2013 commencement, possibly the last for the school. Saint Paul’s management is already in flux. The most recent president, Dr. Claud Flythe, resigned last month. Dr. Algeania W. Freeman, former president of Livingstone College in North Carolina, has been named interim president, according to Dr. Spencer.
Dr. Suber hinted that Saint Augustine’s could change its mind again. She stated that the Saint Paul’s board would be allowed to present a plan to the Raleigh University’s board on Friday, May 31, in hopes of reversing this latest decision.
Saint Augustine’s began takeover talks with Saint Paul’s last Thanksgiving and appeared to have committed itself a month ago. On April 4, the board of Saint Augustine’s notified a federal court in Atlanta that the school planned to move forward with the takeover of Saint Paul’s and would seek approval of the takeover from its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) Commission on Colleges.
As a result, the court put off hearing Saint Paul’s lawsuit challenging SACS’ decision to pull its accreditation in 2012, enabling Saint Paul’s to maintain accreditation — and access to federal, state and private tuition support for its students. The case is to resume once Saint Augustine’s drops the merger.
Saint Augustine’s dates to 1867 and enrolls about 1,500 students at its Raleigh campus. Since January, it has co-managed the Saint Paul’s campus in Brunswick County.
Saint Paul’s, which Episcopal Archdeacon James Solomon Russell founded in 1888, dropped to 150 students during
this school year, far short of the 700 students it once served annually. It has been seeking a takeover suitor since the SACS Commission on Colleges voted to strip its accreditation last summer.
Without a deal for the campus, Saint Paul’s future appears bleak. Virginia State University earlier rejected the school’s offer of its campus, and, to date, Saint Augustine’s is the only other school to express interest.