The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) placed Liberty University on probation for one year on December 9. The Lynchburg, Virginia, school founded by Jerry Falwell has had ongoing financial problems (CT, Dec. 9, 1996, p. 62).
"Liberty is carrying a heavy debt load," Jack Allen, associate executive director for the SACS Commission on Colleges, told CT. "The financial situation has impinged on the education program."
Liberty's indebtedness is approximately $40 million, the largest portion of which is owed to a group of around 2,000 individual bondholders. Scheduled payments have been late the past two years.
Probation is the most serious sanction imposed by the accrediting agency. SACS placed Liberty on probation for one year in 1990, when debt totaled $110 million.
Liberty President A. Pierre Guillermin believes the school has turned the corner, in large part because of supporters who have bought up debt and forgiven the loans. "I seriously doubt that any 25-year-old university with approximately 6,000 students on campus and several thousand others in external programs has ever made such financial progress in such a brief period."
Guillermin says with "the assistance of many special friends" debt should be reduced to around $20 million soon. "This level of indebtedness is both comfortable and manageable," he says.
The December action stemmed from a SACS team reaffirmation visit to the campus in February 1996. In all, SACS found more than three dozen violations by Liberty, including in the areas of academic freedom, faculty compensation, and faculty loads.
A SACS team will return to the campus in October to determine how the school has complied with its recommendations.
February 3, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 2, Page 741
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