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Questions Over Myers University

Friday, September 28, 2007 at 7:30 AM

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Myers University, the Cleveland business school, nearly went out of business last spring after a past president's botched expansion plan. A last minute, two-million dollar donation brought the school back from the brink, but raised new questions about the school's future. Now Myers' president says the future may be turning the school into a for-profit institution. ideastream education reporter Dan Bobkoff sorts it all out.

When Myers University announced in May that it received a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor, it put an end to a tumultuous semester. Many at the business school feared Myers would close. There were rumors graduation would be canceled.

The gift calmed some of those fears and bought the school some time.  But a day later the source of the gift was disclosed - a major shareholder of the for-profit University of Northern Virginia - and that raised new questions about the future of the non-profit Myers University. 

Eric Fingerhut: Well, it is unusual, and it is definitely what raises eyebrows.

That’s Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who actually outed the donor.  He says he didn’t understand all the secrecy.  It wasn’t news that Myers was talking with for-profit schools about possible deals or mergers.  The question here was why an individual with no ties to Cleveland was making what was billed as a charitable donation.

Gary Rushin is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at UNVA. He says this was all about charity.

Gary Rushin: We were in there to save the University. Save the scholars, because it looks like they would have lost their jobs, the students, they would have lost, and the whole University would have failed.

Even though the money came from an individual, there are now clear ties between the two schools.  Rushin and other UNVA officials were placed on Myers’ board.  They now make up a majority.  Rushin says he’s baffled by the questions.

Gary Rushin: We have not changed their programs, we have not changed their corporate governance. Yes, we have people on their board, but the chairman of the board is still the same, who is a graduate of Myers. What have we done?

Both Eric Fingerhut and Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann say they have found nothing wrong with the gift. But, Fingerhut says, they are watching closely to see if the two schools draw closer.

Eric Fingerhut: Should it at any time become apparent that the University of Northern Virginia is running Myers University instead of Myers University operating the facility, then we’d have a problem.

A merger or takeover would force both schools to undergo a new accreditation process. So far, they remain separate, and with the school’s blessing Fingerhut maintains a monitor on site to make sure Myers remains independent and financially stable.

But Myers University President Richard Scaldini, who was brought in last year to help turn the school around, tells 90.3 a merger between the two schools is likely in the future.

Richard Scaldini: At some point in the future, we don’t know when, and we don’t know in what form, there will be a combination. That’s no secret. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We’ve been public about that. What form it will take, when it will happen, couldn’t tell ya. End of story.

In the meantime, he says he’s focused on building the school’s programs and he has the difficult task of rebuilding enrollment.  With all the news about Myers’ financial problems, there are only 531 students taking classes this year. Last year, they had almost a thousand. Myers Senior Lavitta Murray, who started there in 2002, really sees the difference.

Lavitta Murray: Hallways were full of students. We had student organizations, student government, we were overcrowded in the lab!

George Gund Foundation Executive Director Dave Abbott says it’s good to have options in the city, but Myers has to prove its relevance.

Dave Abbott: Myers is in a difficult position because it has to try and demonstrate value in a marketplace that has some fairly low-cost providers such as Tri-C and CSU and to try and distinguish themselves from those competitors is difficult.

The University of Northern Virginia has its problems too. The nine year old school is struggling to keep its accreditation after one of its major accreditors has twice denied a renewal. It’s currently appealing.

While Myers’ finances are more stable, and the culture is returning to normal, Lavitta Murray says students are still worried about the future.

Lavitta Murray: The students were telling me that it’s like, why we are sitting here waiting for the bomb to explode.

Changing that perception is now Myers’ biggest challenge. 

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