William Peace U. Draws Fire for Investing Most of Endowment in Retail Center

The North Carolina university’s trustees recently voted unanimously to plow nearly $21-million of its $33-million endowment into the Seaboard Station retail center, adjacent to the campus, and now the board is attracting further criticism for refusing to disclose the names of the 18 trustees who approved the plan. One board member referred questions to the university’s president, Debra Townsley. As a private nonprofit institution, William Peace is required to disclose its trustees in its annual Form 990, but the most recent year for which it was required to file the form was 2011-12. The current owner of the 92,000-square-foot property is in bankruptcy, and supporters of the university’s planned purchase say it will provide William Peace, a former women’s college that went coed two years ago, with income and with room to grow. Critics say the university is taking a big financial risk by focusing so much of its investment in one piece of property.

Beth Cherry, the Board of Trustees vice chairwoman, said in an interview that the policy has been in place for several years.

“Everything goes through the office of the president. Anyone is welcome to contact the trustees through the office of the president,” she said. “ … It has worked very, very well for us.”

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