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Despite Forged Signature, Bethune-Cookman U. Proceeds With $306-Million Dorm Contract

A $306-million contract to construct new dormitories at Bethune-Cookman University is moving forward — even though the university president’s signature on the contract was forged, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

The contract was first made in 2014 with the company TG Quantum, which was created specifically to bid on the dorm project and did not have any other business contracts before its deal with Bethune-Cookman. The contract included an aggressive financing agreement that amounted to $306 million — not the $72.1 million that college officials had projected — to be paid in annually increasing monthly payments, the News-Journal found.

Although a 2015 investigation into the contract confirmed President Edison Jackson’s allegation that his signature on the contract had been forged, the university’s Board of Trustees has chosen to continue with the agreement. Some members of Bethune-Cookman’s board and an alumni representative had raised concerns about the university’s financial management, but they were removed from the board and denied access to meetings, according to the News-Journal. There were also no apparent discussions by the board about canceling the contract or reviewing it, even after members of the board received a report confirming that Mr. Jackson had not signed the deal, the News-Journal reported.

Mr. Jackson and all active members of Bethune-Cookman’s board declined the News-Journal’s requests for comment on the contract.

Like many other historically black universities, Bethune-Cookman is struggling to manage its increasingly high debt. Last year the university had an operating loss of $17.8 million, and financial documents obtained by the News-Journal indicate that the university has already deferred some of its monthly payments for the dorm contract. The university also adopted a 3-percent tuition increase for the 2018-19 academic year and raised fees for dorm housing — which was made mandatory for all first-year and sophomore students — by 3 percent.

The university faced a backlash this past May, when it hosted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as its commencement speaker. Graduates booed and turned their backs on Ms. DeVos, the state’s NAACP chapter called on Mr. Jackson to resign, and alumni petitioned administrators to not allow Ms. DeVos to speak.

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