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President of Financially Troubled Bethune-Cookman U. Will Retire Early

Edison O. Jackson, president of the financially troubled Bethune-Cookman University since 2012, announced on Tuesday that he would be retiring a year before his contract expires, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported. The news comes just days after the revelation that the university planned to proceed with a dormitory-construction contract costing $306-million over 40 years even though Mr. Jackson’s signature on the document had been forged.

According to the newspaper, the historically black university’s spending and increasing debt from the dormitory project have left it on shaky financial footing. The institution operated at nearly an $18-million loss last year and has struggled to cover the costs of the dorm contract, even deferring some payments. The News-Journal’s examination of Bethune-Cookman’s tax forms revealed that it had borrowed $7 million from its endowment, dropping the fund’s value to $47.8 million, and that it had lost $11 million on its investments. Fitch Ratings downgraded the university’s debt in June to BBB-, which is close to junk status, though Fitch rated Bethune-Cookman’s outlook as stable.

The newspaper also reported that the university’s salaries had climbed by close to $8 million — including a $40,000 raise for Mr. Jackson, who was paid $410,000.

The university found itself in the glare of the national spotlight at its commencement exercises in May, when scores of graduates turned their backs in protest of a speech by Education Secretary Betsy Devos. Mr. Jackson told the students “your degrees will be mailed to you” if they continued to boo. The university would later say that only 20 students had turned their backs, even though witnesses and a Chronicle reporter said they saw many more.

Mr. Jackson did not comment to the News-Journal on his retirement. The Board of Trustees accepted it at a meeting on Tuesday and said the effective date would be set later.

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