Fisk looks to close financial gap, find new board members soon

Monday, June 3, 2013 at 12:53am

The end of the fiscal year for Fisk University is only a month away, and first-year president Dr. H. James Williams is in a figurative sprint to finish line.

Fisk needs about $1.3 million before the end of the year to be financially solvent. Williams said they have about $800,000 in asks out, meaning $700,000 must be raised by June 30.

“The question is how do you plan to fill that gap? We’re making concerted efforts to really zero in on our Fisk alums and friends of Fisk to come up with the remaining dollars,” Williams said. “We have a little over a month to get that done.”

If Fisk finishes the year in the black, that would send a positive message to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which still has Fisk under probation for financial issues. Williams has already implemented belt-tightening measures like faculty furloughs and administrative pay cuts.

“Our whole notion is to convince SACS that, in fact, we can handle our finances in a responsible way. We can balance the budget and operate in a disciplined manner,” Williams told The City Paper.

“If we can’t do it by clearly coming through and being in the black fully by the end of this year, then we’ll have to do some more work to piecemeal it. We would have to focus on other aspects that, when taken together, would show the same result.”

During his first four months on the job, Williams has crisscrossed the country, attempting to spread his message of a revived Fisk. He has met with Fisk alums and friends of the university in Los Angeles; Houston; Dallas; Atlanta; Detroit; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Chicago and Coral Gables, Fla.

“We have made a lot of good progress, so I’m sharing that kind of good news,” Williams said.

Aside from approaching financial solvency, Williams is also encouraged by enrollment projections for next year. The school had dipped down to just 533 students several years ago. Last year, enrollment spiked to 611.

The school is projecting 325 new students in the fall, which would elevate overall enrollment to 756. Williams said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the enrollment numbers and has implemented flexible budgeting if some of those students don’t enroll.

William is also hoping to bring an influx of new leaders to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Six members of the board of trustees had their board terms expire including chairman Robert W. Norton, a former Pfizer executive; Dr. Joan Mobley, a retired pathologist; Howard Gentry, Davidson County Criminal Court clerk; Robert Mallett, a law professor at Georgetown University; and Perian Strang, a nonprofit professional.

Williams said the board has formed a committee to seek out new board members.

“The committee will consider persons, their credentials, their backgrounds and lay that in the context of who we have in the board already and the expertise that they have, and the constituency they represent,” Williams said.

The board also elected Barbara Bowles, a Chicago-based investment manager, to replace Norton as the new chair of the board. Williams said her financial experience will help the school moving forward.