2 state college presidents step down
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — The presidents of two colleges at the center of a federal investigation of the state two-year college system are stepping down.
Months of speculation ended Thursday when system Chancellor Bradley Byrne recommended and the state Board of Education approved retirement requests from Bishop State Community College President Yvonne Kennedy and Shelton State Community College President Rick Rogers.
The vote came even though some board members said they were prepared to demand that both presidents be fired, and another member defended Kennedy's integrity.
Neither retirement will end challenges at the two colleges, particularly at Bishop. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools this month extended Bishop's probation, mainly because of financial-aid irregularities that Byrne said cloud its future.
By a vote of 7-0, the board unanimously approved Rogers' request to retire Sept. 30, but only after discussion of why Byrne's recommendation was to allow retirement instead of demanding resignation or termination. Rogers has been on administrative leave since November and is not expected back at Shelton State.
Stephanie Bell, D-Montgomery, wanted termination for Rogers and questioned why Byrne proposed to allow retirement Sept. 30 instead of sooner. Byrne said Rogers' retirement pay goes up as of that date.
"It is my judgment that it is best for the system to allow Dr. Rogers to retire," said Byrne, who helped negotiate Rogers' departure since he came to the chancellor's job in May.
Gov. Bob Riley, who serves on the board because of his office, said he agreed with Byrne.
"I understand the questions of the board, but I will vote with the chancellor," Riley said.
Randy McKinney, R-Gulf Shores, said he arrived at the meeting prepared to fire both presidents based on financial disclosures of the colleges in recent months.
McKinney said the system allowed problems at the heart of the federal investigation to go on too long, sending the wrong message. He approved Byrne's recommendation for that reason.
Byrne said he would not hesitate to return to the board with another recommendation if the situation with the investigation changes or if there is "just cause" to terminate Rogers.
The board also approved Kennedy's request to retire effective July 31.
Kennedy's retirement date is not linked to the amount of her retirement pay, but her retirement did come with one stipulation. With retirement, Kennedy becomes president emeritus of Bishop State on Aug. 1.
President emeritus is an honorary title with no authority and one that Kennedy requested, Byrne said.
Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, abstained on the vote involving her sorority sister. Decatur's school board representative, David Byers, R-Birmingham, was absent.
Ella Bell defended Kennedy as a "woman of integrity," whose past educational leadership was recognized nationally and internationally.
Bell said that even though some news reports paint a different picture of Kennedy's leadership at Bishop, she sat with Kennedy at SACS hearings, where Kennedy repeatedly asked if the regional college accrediting team members needed more information from her about the college.
McKinney said he is not pleased with things that occurred at Bishop during the past few years. He said Kennedy did a lot of good things for Bishop in earlier years, but perhaps did not have the same degree of oversight in recent years.
Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, endorsed Byrne's recommendation and said the board had little choice but to move forward with the retirements.
Byrne said he believes the retirement decision was not easy for either president.
Kennedy has been president of Bishop State in Mobile since 1981. She also serves in the state House of Representatives. Rogers became president of Shelton State in Tuscaloosa in 2000.
During the transition period, former Southern Union Community College President Joanne Jordan will continue as acting president of Shelton. Jim Lowe Jr., the two-year college system's vice chancellor for college operations, will be interim president at Bishop.
Riley said Bishop has an important role in work-force development training as major industries move into South Alabama.
Shelton State's Rogers was accused of receiving money from a fraud scheme. A former board member of the Alabama Fire College, based at Shelton, pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering, wire fraud and theft from a government agency.
At Bishop State, a fraud investigation has resulted in 27 arrests of students and employees.
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