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University appoints new acting president

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

Following a marathon meeting of the Mid-Continent University Board of Trustees, the school has a new acting president and renewed hope for keeping its doors open.

The Board of Trustees met Saturday in executive session for more than four hours to discuss various plans for the school's future. The board accepted an offer from Robert Imhoff, who had served as president since 2000, to step aside and then named Ken Winters of Murray as acting president.

Chairman Tom Butler said Imhoff has agreed to step aside and give the authority and responsibilities to Winters.

"He has been a valuable president for a number of years but he felt it was in the best interests of the university for him to step aside," Butler said.

Winters previously served as the president of Campbellsville University in Campbellsville for 11 years. He then was a Republican state senator from 2004 to 2012 and chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Winters said he has been meeting with school and board officials since Tuesday to analyze the situation before deciding to take the temporary role.

"The young people are the ones vulnerable in a situation like this," Winters said. "I want to be a help for the short term to get things back on track."

He said his role as acting president will most likely be limited to several months and will include an evaluation of the school's dire financial situation and implementation of steps to remedy it.

Although the board sets the university policies, as acting president, Winters can act unilaterally in all school matters.

Mid-Continent will then name an interim president, who could serve in that role for up to one year, while a national search is conducted to find the next school leader. Butler said at this time he doesn't expect any additional changes to staff or administrative personnel.

The board also worked on a three-fold plan that may keep the school open through graduation and into subsequent years. Trustee Gale Hawkins said the school will need about $6 million to reach spring graduation.

Butler said the first and most important step is submitting the fourth round of paperwork and receiving the U.S. Department of Education's approval, which would unlock up to $9 million. The documents, which financial officials and a former Department of Education employee consultant worked on through Saturday, are set to be sent by courier to a regional office in Kansas City today.

The group of paperwork will provide a sample portfolio of the student population that officials hope will unlock some advanced funds. Then a more in-depth report will be submitted. Bill Bartleman, school chief of staff, and other officials met with Department of Education representatives in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

"Trustees, friends and alumni have been working together to find short-term solutions until the federal funding comes in," Butler said. "Going forward we are much more confident now and are speaking with one voice."

To sustain the university in the interim, officials have begun a dialogue with the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) based in Frankfort to provide the university with a more immediate payment schedule. The school is also considering the sale of current university assets, including surplus land property and vehicles to provide financial relief. That evaluation will be overseen by Winters and begin this week, he said.

Although the school hasn't received any federal student grant or loan money since September, issues with incorrect and flawed bookkeeping procedures have been ongoing since 2010. Winters pointed to issues adjusting the federal regulations to the unique no-term schedule used in the school's Advantage program.

A Program Review Report addressed to Robert Imhoff conducted in November 2010 from the Department of Education dated August 2011, cited 18 findings of non-compliance on the part of the university, mostly related to the Advantage program. Issues included improper awarding and disbursement of loan and grant funding, incomplete awarding procedures, late or unmet financial aid requirements and a failure to provide accurate notification to students, among other complaints. The report also included recommended required action for each finding.

Winters said he plans to meet with students and faculty members in a town hall type meeting during chapel at 9:30 a.m.  Monday. He said he plans to work on disseminating information to the school community through more frequent in-person presentations and email messages.

Students on campus Saturday voiced frustration with the lack of communication from members of school administration, faculty and staff, which has resulted in a tense atmosphere of uncertainty.

Sophomore and business major Darius White said students haven't received any information in person or electronically about the school's financial shortfalls.

"Just tell us what's going on," White said. "It's not right, not right at all."

Darren Fletcher, a senior with a double major in biblical studies and psychology, agreed, adding, "If things are like this, a degree from here doesn't mean that much to me."

Another Board of Trustees meeting is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Advantage building on campus. Butler said it's essential for the board to meet more frequently to keep members abreast of all new developments.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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