The following is an investigative report by a long-time member of the Black community in Little Rock who has close knowledge of the history and corruption of Arkansas Baptist College. This is a story of money laundering, sweet heart land deals, grade fixing, and fraud that includes not just some despicable small-time Negroes acting like minstrels but African American and other Clinton appointees that reach to the highest levels of Big Business in Little Rock (oil, biotech, finance, department stores) who have tried to use the ABC foundation as a veil for their economic ambition as actual education is betrayed.
“Moon ah run till day ketch am.” – An African proverb
A college president throws all the books out of the library and replaces them with video games. An undergraduate is permitted to be the assistant registrar, and there is a grade fixing scandal. The executive of the dining hall orders too much food and always runs out of food; it is known she has a catering business on the side. With no endowment, and living on an austerity budget where the light and telephone bills cannot be paid, a college gets exorbitant loans to purchase land and erect buildings. The buildings are not finally paid for, but construction is done with multiple businesses affiliated with campus administrators. Land worth far less than it was paid for is purchased from members of the Board of Trustees. The college president who is fired is not the one who led the scandalous regime but the one trying to discover and clean up the mess. This is the perennial scandal at rkansas Baptist College.
In the last five years we have heard about conflicts between college presidents and boards of trustees at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): FAMU, Alabama State, South Carolina State, Morgan State, Delaware State, Morehouse, and Wilberforce. What spills out into the public is a difficult environment for professional administrators to do what is normatively termed their job because of the authoritarian behavior and overreach of Board of Trustees (BOTs) at HBCUs. However, in most cases, the actual policy disputes or signs of violations of morality in public affairs never surface from these controversies.
We have not been able to understand what is happening at our HBCUs, because the elite that runs them, even when they quarrel among themselves, believe they cannot trust ordinary Black people, the teachers, campus workers, students, and neighbors, to organize themselves and lead their own community institutions. They do not “open the books,” the accounting or financial records, for public discussion so we can discern the truth for ourselves about austerity crises.
Many of us believe it is a tragedy though when our professionals who mean well cannot assist in cultivating the popular will toward a greater self-reliance. Perhaps we need to move on toward a disposition that the professional classes, as a whole, need to be abolished as the embodiment of culture and governance in our community.
Recently, the administration of Dr. Joseph L. Jones resigned or was fired at Arkansas Baptist College (ABC). Jones held his position for a little more than a year. The Board of Trustees (BOT) submits Jones was terminated for lack of transparency and loss of confidence in his leadership. Yet, a recent visit by the College’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), suggests by most professional standards, Jones’s administration was performing satisfactorily. They were pleased by its honesty and accountability under the adversity of having to govern the school under an austerity budget and heightened cash monitoring in contrast to the previous administration led by Dr. Fitz Hill.
A petition on change.org signed by Horrace “Zulu” Maddox, a Little Rock community member, and over 40 others, calls for the removal of Dr. Fitz Hill, the college president preceding Dr. Jones, from the Arkansas State Board of Education. Signing this petition could be a crucial aspect of turning the tide in Little Rock. Dr. Hill was appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson to observe the financial and educational standards of schools. Maddox made clear that despite hearsay in the community about Dr. Hill’s desire to run for mayor of Little Rock in the future, Dr. Hill was not a “success” as leader of ABC, as his cohorts in the church and business community claim.
Hill’s So-Called Kingdom Transformation
Dr. Fitz Hill was the president of ABC from 2006 to 2016. In recent times, the average president of an HBCU across the country is permitted to stay on for one to three years. One statistic suggests in the last five years, a Black college president is fired every 23 days, often by an overwhelmingly black Board of Trustees. Are Black college administrators an oppressed class of people? Probably not. But they are submitted to abuse far beyond the standard professionals in their position know at other institutions.
How could Dr. Hill, a college president the last ten years, who was thereafter appointed to lead the Arkansas Baptist College Foundation, and recently added as a member of an Emergency Management Committee of the BOT, be permitted to oversee Jones’s administration if he in fact bankrupted the College and replaced the library’s books with video games?
Under Dr. Hill’s leadership, he disregarded historical archives and threw all the books out of the college library, though some were damaged, and replaced them with video games. He permitted an assistant registrar to be an undergraduate who fixed and falsified grades. Dr. Hill also bankrupted the college by taking exorbitant loans, including a $30 million HBCU debt consolidation loan. It is a federal felony to attain these loans by falsifying information. Given the lack of financial viability of the institution, what lengths did Hill go to attain the loan, and what was the interest of the lenders given ABC had no endowment or assets? This gives us some indication of Hill’s wisdom as an educator and the BOT’s capacity to ethically oversee education for Black people.
The BOT, presently led by Dr. Kenneth Harris and Bill Walker, widely known in Little Rock for financial impropriety as a former public servant, have put it out in public that Dr. Jones’s administration was terminated when it was revealed they did not pay withholding taxes for a few months. If this is true, research shows that for a far longer period Dr. Hill’s administration in the past did not pay these same taxes, and Harris was on the ABC BOT then as well.
Further, the BOT acknowledges that Dr. Hill currently presides over an ABC non-profit foundation that does not have a 501c3 status, as the Maddox petition highlighted. Dr. Harris erroneously explains there has been a delay in registering their foundation because of a shifting approach of the BOT to the engagement of new market tax credits. While a change in focus of said foundation may be the case, that does not prevent foundation officials from filing the appropriate paperwork to keep the federal non-profit status current. We need to understand what is behind the BOT’s concern with new market tax credits and not properly registering the college’s fundraising arm. Apparently, the BOT enables excessive financial and other mismanagement of some people while quarreling with others whose mistakes are minimal in comparison.
The lapsing of ABC non-profit foundation 501c3 status dates back to 2013, three years before Dr. Hill steps down as the president. And the suspected creation of a new shadowy foundation points to a trail of abuses that lead to criminal ties with Big Business in Little Rock. Evidence suggests that another non-profit foundation was being created by Dr. Hill and his friends as early as 2015. The terms of Dr. Jones’s employment beginning in 2016 included that Dr. Hill would assume the role of President of the ABC Foundation and be primarily responsible for fundraising to pay back the $30 million debt consolidation loan taken out by Hill in 2014. Yet as of December 2017, Dr. Harris, the chairman of the BOT, acknowledges that the college foundation has no legal status as mentioned previously, though Harris has been part of BOT meetings where it has been noted that the foundation exists - with prominent members on its Board - and this group was approved by the college BOT in the last meeting before Dr. Jones was hired.
Big Donors and “Divine Dollars”
Hill’s President’s Decade Report, Kingdom Transformation: A Decade of Service and Divine Moments in the Midst of Challenges, lists the following “big donors”:
First Security Bank – New Market Tax Credits (John Rutledge)
Bear State Foundation
Massey Family Charitable Foundation, Inc (Rick Massey)
Coulson Foundation (Mike and Beth Coulson)
Stephen’s Inc. (Warren Stephens)
Griffith Group LLC/Baton Rouge Foundation (Barry and Andrea Griffith)
Carl and Witt Stephens Charitable Foundation
WIN Rockefeller Foundation
Dillards Inc. (William Dillard Inc.)
These big names in department stores, biotech, oil, and finance leave out various smaller “divine dollar” donations from Baptist church affiliated groups and individual citizens.
Dr. Harris, in a recent public statement, explains that there has been a transition in how the BOT sees the uses of a non-profit foundation. Harris acknowledges that ABC previously conceived of their foundation as facilitating “new market tax credits.”
“New Market Tax Credits” and “Empowerment Zones”
Experienced observers understand these tax credits are consistent with what used to be called “empowerment zones.” Such were never meant to be empowering to the Black working class and unemployed. But hustlers such as Hill, whose brand, was the aspiration to “put the neighbor back in the ‘hood” latched onto them.
Hill grew up as Jim Crow was coming to a close. But rather than dream of fighting the Klan and police, he chose instead to identify with the grocery store owner, with the captive market under segregation, as the embodiment of Black autonomy and unity in the community. Hill speaks in a way that romaticizes Jim Crow, of the need to promote Black business, corporate reinvestment, and overcoming government neglect around the historic community that houses ABC and Philander Smith College, another small HBCU a few blocks down the way.
Either people like Hill are very smart or very stupid. Corner grocery store owners are not multi-national corporations, Big Businesses are not Black businesses. Government intervention in our communities to promote capital accumulation is not Black people forming their own government or finding their self-reliance. Hill and the BOT represent a backward traditional notion which holds that Black individual private accumulation of wealth is somehow a cooperative project.
The promotion of “new market tax credits” or “empowerment zones” creates incentives for private capital to invest in decaying low income neighborhoods so they might reinvigorate their business districts and raise real estate values. This paves the way for the state, major capitalists, and Negroes of the Uncle Ruckus variety to collude and cash in.
The African Bean Company and other Mysterious Entities
In February 2014, Hill’s administration responded to the HLC (and their hired special investigators EGP led by Jo Spencer) who were seeking “missing” financial records from 2010-2015. Multiple anonymous complaints to the HLC flagged that monies collected by the ABC foundation did not go toward the college’s development.
A cluster of overlapping companies was investigated that had some relationship with the ABC Foundation before 2013 when its paperwork began not to be kept up. These included: Buffalo Development LLC, Turner Development LLC (Robert Turner), African Bean Company (Dr. Hill’s company with the same initials as Arkansas Baptist College – good for depositing checks written to “ABC”), Billy Jones Consulting. EGP was not able to get appropriate records for these overlapping companies, payroll records, and employee job descriptions.
ABC’s college mascot is the Buffalo. Dr. Hill in no way identifies as an “African” in any honorable way. Under these organizational premises while Arkansas Baptist College could not pay its light bills, Dr. Hill and associates took out loans to build two modest buildings (one never fully paid for) and purchase large empty lots around the college. Most prominently Hill purchased an antiquated hand carwash and prominently displayed the college’s name on that lot – he has bragged this was a contribution to fighting crime and drugs!
It is notable that a prominent African American, Judge Wendell Griffin, who is critical of police brutality, supports the idea of Black Lives Matter, and whom used to be on the ABC BOT, moved that Hill be fired for criminal activities. The judge was outvoted and resigned in disgust.
What did Dr. Jones’s Administration Step Into?
Dr. Jones, it was hoped by the BOT, as a young first-time college president, would be inexperienced enough to not understand, enable, or be made the scapegoat for the long trail of abuses Hill and the BOT created before his arrival. This is not to suggest Dr. Jones did all he could to draw the line as an anti-corruption president, in the public arena, between his administration and the previous Hill regime. He actually adhered too much to normative professionalism and protocols, and this led to his demise. A reconsideration of how “professional” we wish our HBCUs to be is necessary, as many undoubtedly wish to take pride in them.
Dr. Jones, early in his administration, found many operational peculiarities that he tried to fix. He uncovered a grade fixing scandal with an undergraduate student as the Assistant Registrar. Football coaches collected ticket and concession revenues and took them to their homes as opposed to the Chief Financial Officer and/or Business Office representative immediately following the game. Overspending and inventory irregularities persisted by the executive director of the dining hall, who is known to have her own catering business, and campus security issues remained prevalent on the campus, including repeated gun and domestic violence incidences.
Dr. Jones came into conflict with the BOT regarding the mission of the school. Accusing Dr. Jones of changing the ABC mission, what the BOT really meant was Hill and the BOT actually re-branded the college as a place for “low-performing,” “low-income” pariahs to come and be “rehabilitated” i.e. a half-way of sorts for sub-standard football players. The BOT repeatedly attested that young Black men could not attain a standard liberal arts education. They dishonestly equated cultural criticism of standardized tests with the idea that young Black men cannot achieve or learn by any measure recognizable by Black History. Furthermore, Hill and the BOT were never serious about developing reading, writing, research, and public speaking. They assumed the descendants of slaves, found at HBCUs, could never express themselves vibrantly. How did Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B Wells, Ralph Ellison, Paul Robeson, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Alice Walker figure this out? Dr. Hill left Dr. Jones with a student body that he recruited in Detroit and Chicago by essentially welcoming all to “get on the bus.” The previous administration, who struggled to process financial aid forms themselves, accumulated many students who had minimal basic skills.
Dr. Jones, who grew up in Los Angeles, welcomed students who might not be prepared for college – as he initially was not. But he insisted when students come to college, they need “not only see themselves” but be exposed to peoples and cultures that are new to them. HBCUs needed to provide a sense of wonder and possibility.
Dr. Jones also tried to internationalize the education at ABC. He affiliated the college with the American Council on Education and created an international studies awareness week. He was struggling to attract faculty rooted in traditions which have deep awareness of African and Caribbean history and that questioned empire. Reportedly, some students experienced some innovative programs that allowed them to discuss comparative religion, migrant workers, the Haitian Revolution, the music of Trinidad and Jamaica, Nkrumah’s Ghana, Selassie’s Ethiopia, and the experience of Blacks in Montreal, Canada. Students were also encouraged, for the first time in years, to study abroad and consider studying foreign languages. There was also talk about getting involved in Caribbean disaster relief, which reinvigorated ABC’s few international students, and the promise of recruiting more to the campus.
Dr. Jones was not fired because he threatened a system of hustles in the dining hall, tried to rein in the patronage schemes of ABC’s losing football program, ended grade fixing or put books back in the library and tried to get Black students to study abroad and care about the African world. Dr. Jones’s real crime, was his that administration’s accounting practices were so transparent, despite having to “afro-engineer” bills left by Hill, that the masterminds behind Hill feared he would uncover how Arkansas Baptist College was seemingly being used by Arkansas politicians, Big Business, and financial elites even as they made donations that the college rarely benefited.
If such a cast of prosperous characters could have paid all the college’s debts and started a proper endowment, and they cared so much about Black education, why did they not do so?
The Shadowy Foundation that does not Exist
Arkansas Baptist College, under the BOT and Hill has perhaps more value as a pawn for money laundering and sweet heart real estate deals, than it has as one with informed students, dynamic teachers, and ethical administrators who don’t seek to enrich themselves. The shadowy non-profit college foundation, with a now 4-year long lapsed 501(c)3 status, could be central to uncovering the greatest scandals of them all.
Dr. Fitz Hill assumed the presidency of the college’s foundation at the same time of Dr. Jones’s appointment as the president of the college, September 1, 2016. Some who most likely helped Hill organize this opaque entity before Hill left his post as the college president, were former ABC Board Chair Beth Coulson of Coulson Oil, who was also a judge appointed by Bill Clinton (whose foundation is currently under scrutiny), and former BOT member Bob Childress, a prominent CPA in Little Rock, also a Clinton appointee. Anonymous sources relay that Coulson and Childress were in conversation with other figures in the foundation machination. Regina Favors, a former Blue Cross Blue Shield executive and Clinton appointee and a former chair of the ABC BOT, Barry Griffith, and Bill Dilliard III were part of this dialogue. Whit Penick, Senior VP of First Security Bank, the college’s primary capital projects and short term lender, like Favors and Griffith, was approved by the ABC BOT to be on the foundation board shrouded in mystery.
Given their professional track record and expertise, and the Board members’ fiduciary responsibility, how is it that Hill was allowed to head an entity that not only failed to maintain its tax exempt status, but it is still revoked currently? Does the college foundation that has a public track record, albeit operationally flawed, act as a front organization for another? How could donors give to a foundation with no tax-free status and receive their write-off? Are they in fact giving to another unknown entity? Were Hill and Board members reaping personal benefits in some way?
The obscuring of sources of money, either intentionally or by not tracking sources or destinations properly happened at the height of Dr. Hill’s regime, where obviously the lack of 501(c)3 status implicates not only Hill and the foundation Board, but also donors to the foundation and the College’s BOT since the Foundation Board reports to the College BOT. Also noteworthy is most anti-money laundering laws are concerned with the source of funds and the ethics of what is being financed or the destination of funds.
Dr. Hill made many land purchases in the name of the college from 2006-2016, most of which, as public records confirm, had no value corresponding to what he paid for them. All of these deals were done while the college consistently could not pay its light and phone bills. Under Hill, ABC made land deals with the Massey family which is also his primary benefactor and is thought to be a major spirit animating the invisible foundation. Richard N. Massey is the former college BOT treasurer. Another land transaction, with Right Development LLC, is the company of attorney Richard L Mays, a longtime member of ABC’s BOT, who was appointed by Bill Clinton to the Arkansas Supreme Court and has served on the Arkansas Ethics Commission. One of the largest land purchases under Hill’s tenure was from Abraham Carpenter Sr., an African American produce supplier to Wal-Mart and Kroger. A five-year loan was floated by Summit bank. Drew Harper, at the time executive vice president of Summit, was on ABC’s BOT.
Considered unethical because it is not in the best interest of the larger community of stakeholders, a sweet heart deal is one where one party in a business transaction is presented with very attractive terms and conditions. Whether we read these land purchases under Hill as “sweet” or not, clear conflicts of interest exist between Board members and the college’s president. Whomever accumulates wealth from such transactions, and knows that the college cannot pay its bills except by acquiring more debt, is acting unethically.
During the Jones administration the BOT insisted that all purchases over $5,000 would have to be approved by them. The BOT is required to keep publicly accessible minutes for all their meetings by law. Where is the documentation of the BOT’s approval of numerous land purchases at values of $10,000 to $285,000 under Dr. Hill from 2006-2016?
It has not been in the interest of the Arkansas Baptist College community to bankrupt the school through exorbitant loans supposedly to pay its debts. In reality these loans have been used to accumulate private wealth in the name of community development.
A suspenseful story to be sure, this may reveal that there is in fact, no community around our HBCUs. There are of course over-lapping spaces: church-going folks who have a common history, young people searching for their identity and future, and those who advance themselves using decaying institutions and marginal people as their capital in a climate of hearsay and gossip.
The Black elite that run our HBCUs, even when they quarrel among themselves, do not believe they can trust ordinary Black people - the teachers, campus workers, students, and neighbors - to organize themselves and lead their own community institutions. Whether stealing or not, they keep information from us that impedes community control; Black faces in high places is not Black mass-democratic power.
A dynamic self-governing community would educate themselves, with transparent information, and root out the criminals. The abolition of the professional classes, the minority that rules above us, as the embodiment of culture and government, is imperative. Those with formal education can advise. But we should probably not trust such people unless they advocate free tuition (not financial aid and debt) for all students, and unless they wish no coveted position beyond our authority and limited means.
Moreover, our HBCU students, workers, and surrounding neighborhood need to organize themselves into popular responsibility councils and assemblies. We need not be invited to “participate” by anyone but must take the initiative to take over these campuses, the land, and resources. We need to choose our policies first, based on new values different than those held by these Black elites, then organize ourselves. Only after do we choose our own leaders. We should make HBCU leaders subject to instant recall when they are found to make a mockery out of the project of Black self-reliance. This approach might clarify the scandals found at all HBCUs not just at Arkansas Baptist College.
Attalah Nasir can be contacted via email at [email protected]