President of United Methodist-Related College Returns to Post

The president of the United Methodist-related Bennett College, who resigned last month, rescinded her decision to leave the historically black women’s college. The announcement was made during a press conference last week on May 18, 2005.

"I am now more committed than ever to doing all in my power to advance the process of revitalizing Bennett College," said President Johnnetta B. Cole. "I’ve always felt that each person in a leadership role needs to have some sense of when he or she needs to leave. But it’s highly irresponsible for a leader to move before the task is completed."

Cole’s resignation on April 27 followed as a response to conflict that arose among some faculty members regarding her leadership, according to the United Methodist News Service (UMNS).

A number of supporters – students, faculty members, alumnae and friends of the college – sent Cole messages of support, imploring her to stay. As a result, the 68-year-old president, who came out of retirement to lead Bennett in 2002, withdrew her resignation.

"The Bennett College faculty is very supportive of her administration and her presidency," said Dr. Audrey Campbell, who teaches psychology at the school and is president of the faculty senate. "We want her to stay until her job is done."

The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, delighted about her new decision, recognized the value of Cole’s leadership.

"She is in the midst of bringing institutional stability and viability to Bennett College, and the college is desperately in need of her dynamic leadership," said Del Pino. "She has been, and is, a vital asset to the United Methodist Church’s higher education community, and to the United Methodist Church."

During the press conference held in front of Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel in the center of Greensboro, N.C.-campus, Cole also stated that there are two tasks that must be fulfilled before she considers her work complete. Firstly, Bennett must reach a position where the school never again experience financial difficulty and secondly, the school must do some planning on who her replacement would be.

Additional Announcements at Press Conference

Cole also announced a new $600,000 gift from Bill and Camille Cosby, in addition to a $200,000 gift made in April for scholarships. The $600,000 gift will be “unrestricted,” reported UMNS, which means that the money should be allocated in the general education fund to be used for most necessary purposes.

"We are profoundly grateful to Dr. Bill and Dr. Camille Cosby for this particular expression of their extraordinary, generous and unwavering support of historically black colleges and universities," Cole said, contends the school is on "solid" financial ground.

Cole refuted the rumors about Bennett’s current financial state, saying they are "absolutely false."

"This description of Bennett’s current financial state was blown out of proportion in several news articles, which were written to support Bennett College and reported the grossly inaccurate statement that Bennett is in a financial crisis,” said Cole. “What is true is that Bennett, like many small colleges, experiences a ‘dry spell’ during the summer months, when revenue from the second semester’s tuition has been expended and the college will not receive tuition revenue until the fall."

Students at Bennett as well as students from historically black colleges across the state and country who heard the news are raising money for one of the 11 historically black colleges and universities in the states related to the United Methodist Church.

Achievements Since Cole Took Office in July 2002

In her May 18 speech, Cole outlined a number of achievements since she became president.

1. Bennett’s enrollment is no longer in decline. The current enrollment is 504 students.
2. The school’s $3.8 million deficit has been eliminated.
3. Bennett has been removed from probation by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. The association’s Commission on Colleges had threatened to revoke Bennett’s accreditation because of budget problems.
4. The college had a balanced budget in 2004 and expects one in 2005.
5. Buildings and grounds have been improved, with major renovations completed on the library and another building.
6. With former Sen. Bob Dole as the honorary chairman, the "Revitalize Bennett" fund-raising campaign, launched in 2003, has raised more than $24 million.

Cole also stated in her address “Bennett is well on her way to reclaiming her rightful place as a small, fiscally stable liberal arts college, where women with academic prowess and women with academic promise receive a quality education."

Long-term Goals

Long-range goals include growing the enrollment and faculty, continuing improvements on the physical plant, offering "cutting edge" programs, and building up the school’s endowment, now at $9 million.

Among the new programs being implemented at Bennet include the inaugural Global Summer Leadership Institute designed for girls ages 14-17 hosted by the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute at Bennett. The July 2-16 program will target African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American young women as a part of the school’s recruiting campaign.

"We are trying to build enrollment," she said, "and one obvious way to do that is to reach out to our Latina sisters, our First Nation sisters and our Asian sisters. We believe it’s the right thing to do. And it will also make us a better college."

Several Bennett students will participate in summer programs in Korea and South Africa, and faculty will be involved in institutes in Ghana and Austria. Cole is also considering to reinstate an exchange program with predominantly white women’s colleges.