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Accrediting Board Rejects Bennett College's Appeal; School Responds With Lawsuit

Bennett College
Bennett College

Bennett College on Friday lost an appeal to have its accreditation restored, but then got it back after filing a lawsuit against its accrediting agency - the Southern Association of Schools Commission on Colleges.

A federal judge in Atlanta granted Bennett a temporary straining order while Bennett's lawsuit proceeds.

"The court's decision reflects an agreement reached earlier between the college and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to preserve college accreditation during legal proceedings," said Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins.

The Greensboro school is one of only two all-female HBCU institutions in the country. The other is Spelman College in Atlanta.

While the lawsuit proceeds, Dawkins says Bennett will seek accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. She urged students and alumni to keep faith and remain strong.

School leaders had previously said they would sue the agency if they lost their appeal. In previous instances, the commission has responded to lawsuits by agreeing to extend accreditation to let the legal process develop.

Bennett's finances have been a concern for the SASCC. Bennett had been on probation for two years when it first lost its accreditation in December. Bennett appealed that decision and embarked on a fundraising campaign to maintain its accreditation. The school raised nearly $10 million, roughly double what Bennett officials thought they would need to prove to an appeals committee that its finances are stable.

High Point University President Nido Qubein said in a statement he's saddened Bennett lost its appeal. The nearby school had given Bennett $1 million.

"HPU and I worked diligently to assist and support our neighborhood sister school that is also associated with the United Methodist Church as we are," He wrote. "We have no regret about stepping up and stepping out to partner with Bennett in their fundraising campaign."

Congresswoman Alma Adams, who used to teach at Bennett, tweeted, "I firmly believe Bennett College deserved a favorable review. The institution has been an invaluable asset to our community. I will continue to give my full support to the college and the students they serve."

Lodriguez Murray of the United Negro College Fund, which has been helping Bennett raise money, said he's trying to understand the reasoning behind the decision.

"I think we were always prepared for either scenario," he said. "This was definitely not what we expected and what we hoped for."

Murray said the UNCF is standing firm in its support for Bennett.

"We are talking about an institution that has been a driver of producing African American female leaders throughout this country," Murray said. "We think that Bennett College is worth fighting for and we are going to stand with them and we are going to be right there with them not just right now but we look forward to a long future with them."

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