Presiding Over a College's Final Days
May 24, 2014 1:05 PM   Subscribe

The president of Saint Paul's College, Millard (Pete) Stith, has the unusual mandate of selling his institution. He took over management after the historically black college was unable to pay its debts, lost its accreditation, and closed in 2013. Along with a staff of 22, he maintains the campus in hopes that another college will purchase it during a sealed-bid auction, on June 25.
posted by SkylitDrawl (16 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is kind of how WFMU started. My dad actually called sports games on WFMU when it was part of Upsala College in East Orange NJ. As the college was approaching bankruptcy, bought the university's license, and the rest is weird/awesome music history.

My dad has never said this out right, but I think he's very slightly embarrassed to be a graduate of a school that no longer exists. It is kind of weird that the institution that spit you out into the free world couldn't keep its own act together.
posted by lownote at 1:09 PM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Having experience going through a sort-of-thing like this... my only advice for staying sane is; don't be a drinking man before you start this, have the patience of Job, and remember- It's okay if some days you find yourself a complete loon.
Shit happens.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 2:01 PM on May 24, 2014

I'm familiar with two colleges with similar histories. The former Milton College^ in Wisconsin closed in 1982, and most of its buildings have gone over to private use, with others such as the college library becoming the municipal library. Though it produced some notable alumni, I don't think there were ever more than a couple of hundred in the student body.

Both my parents attended Shimer College (then an affiliate of the University of Chicago, where they received their degrees) in the rather remote Mt. Carroll, Illinois. It's an interesting case as it's now located at its third campus, a situation that must come close to unique. Most of the first campus, during which the institution evolved from an academy (advanced high school) to a women's college to a coed campus with ties to one of the most distinguished universities, is now managed by a local board seeking somewhat quixotic uses such as corporate retreats, though it also houses the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation, which teaches specialized art and architectural conservation techniques (but primarily in summer months). In the 1960s the campus had expanded dorms and facilities to accommodate higher levels of college loan funding, but by the 1980s expected attendance had not materialized and the college was forced to sell the campus to stay in business. They then reconstituted themselves in a cobbled-together campus in Waukegan (part of it sloughed off by the local Y). Much more recently, the college of some 150 students decamped again to facilities leased from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Through it all they've diligently maintained their increasingly unusual curriculum based on the Great Books^ and heavily based on the Western canon (which also at one time formed the basis of the U of C curriculum). Anyway, I think it provides an interesting edge case for the question of how much a school is an idea, or how much a place.

But for all that, at the same time, there's the place it left behind.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 PM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

My mother is an alumna of the New Bedford Institute of Textiles and Technology, although it was the New Bedford Textile Institute during most of her time as a student, and became New Bedford Institute of Technology less than half a dozen years after she graduated.

It continued going renaming and re-organizing until its current state as UMass Dartmouth, about a dozen miles away geographically but light years away from its original charter as a trade school for the textile industry.
posted by ardgedee at 3:33 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it still had its accreditation it would be bought for a lot more money by a for-profit school.

Maharishi University of Management purchased its entire campus intact from a defunct college, so I guess there is some market for just the real estate too.
posted by miyabo at 6:09 PM on May 24, 2014

"Would you agree to be the president? We can’t pay you anymore, but we’ll give you the parking space near the building."

Oh lord.

How the heck do you prove that you graduated from a college that no longer exists, should you have to prove that you graduated from college?

We have a similar story in my neck of the woods.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

In 2012, the junior college that I had graduated from over 20 years back declared bankruptcy and the property was sold at auction. It's not clear to me if all of the staff were paid for the several missed payrolls from the end of the 2011-2012 school year.

The bankruptcy plan included a way for former students to get transcripts. I don't know how long it will last, and they're only processing requests 1-2 time a month, but it's better than nothing.

I'm glad I've gone on to further degrees, because it's going to get hairy to get that one eventually.
posted by Mad_Carew at 7:36 PM on May 24, 2014

It's an interesting case as it's now located at its third campus, a situation that must come close to unique.

The University of Rochester is also on its third campus. Princeton is in its third city (Elizabeth, Newark, Princeton). Columbia University is on its fourth campus, at least. The King's College has just moved to its fifth campus.
posted by Jahaza at 10:19 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

How the heck do you prove that you graduated from a college that no longer exists, should you have to prove that you graduated from college?

Usually the state higher education commission will arrange for another college to take over the records of the defunct school. For example, Bradford College in Mass., which closed in 2000, has its records at Merrimack.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:39 AM on May 25, 2014

How the heck do you prove that you graduated from a college that no longer exists, should you have to prove that you graduated from college?

My late father was in this boat. He attended a tiny, private, technical college for a specialized engineering degree in the 1950s. They opened soon before he enrolled and closed soon after he graduated. Apparently, as the years went by, the procedure was to write the former dean's widow who still had a filing cabinet of school paperwork. She would then sit down at her typewriter, type up a copy of student's record, and drop it in the mail.

As this point I'm pretty confident that the only real evidence still existing anywhere that he went to college, and possibly that his school ever existed, is his actual diploma and a yellowing sheet of paper I have with his college transcript.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2014

List of Colleges and Universities that have Closed, Merged, or Changed their Names. A subject just about as opaque as accreditation.

The blog College History Garden (it mentioned St. Paul's a few days ago) seems to be dedicated to the subject.
posted by Twang at 11:16 AM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

The King's College has just moved to its fifth campus.

If you call a suite of rented offices in the Empire State Building a "campus" I guess. Seriously, mentioning TKC in the same breath as legitimate institutions not devoted to theological warfare is lulzy.
posted by spitbull at 6:04 PM on May 26, 2014

In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission has information on every closed school and who the record-sources are.

They used to have it all on their website, but they are mid-redesign and tell me via email that it will be back "soon". For fellow Texans in this circumstance, call TWC Career Schools and Colleges Helpdesk at 512.936.3100

For people from other states, somebody in your government should have exactly such a list.
posted by Mad_Carew at 7:25 AM on May 27, 2014

A friend works at our home state's Historical Society. She took me into the bowels of their sweet new building, and showed me the HUGE, high, echoing room where they hold the corporate papers for many local businesses -- mostly defunct. Two stories high, at least a block long: my jaw dropped.

Among those are the papers of a large volunteer organization whose board called my own mom back to service so she could shut it down. It was a couple of years of real heartbreak for her to do the best she could, financially, to dismember a group whose works she was very proud to have helped accomplish. Property had to be sold off, artwork had to be re- or un-donated, papers had to be organized and housed…and then someone had to find new homes for al the mentally ill people whose housing they provided.

I expect that this isn't unique to non-profits, but it's still very painful.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:08 AM on May 27, 2014

One of the universities I attended changed names. From Southwest Texas State University to Texas State University at San Marcos (iirc), or something equally unwieldy. I still have SWTSU on my resume, because that's where I went to school. And now, when the alumni association calls for monies, I just tell them that I went to a different university. It confuses them long enough for me to get away.
posted by dejah420 at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2014

Atlanta's Morris Brown College lost its accreditation more than ten years ago, has been limping along ever since, and is facing the auction block (next Thursday, June 12, as of now).

Its position on prime real estate in the shadow of an NFL football stadium just might bring the final blow to an HBCU founded in the 19th century.

(On that note, there's another thread I'd like to post to before it closes...)
posted by tyro urge at 3:27 PM on June 6, 2014

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