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MCU board votes, gives trustee boot

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Mid-Continent University may have closed two weeks ago, but the school remains in turmoil.

The MCU Board of Trustees voted off one of its members, Gale Hawkins, at its meeting Monday night.

Hawkins joined the board in 2003. Board Chairman Tom Butler said he was voted off the board "for violating written and approved board policy."

Hawkins' removal comes after MCU Acting President Tom Walden sent a letter to board members on July 8 raising concern about a board member making unofficial statements and leaking information despite a vote by the board in April that only Walden and those appointed by him "could communicate with the news media, public and/or employees."

Walden's letter indicates MCU's vice president of finance and administration, Tim Walker, was concerned about statements made by a board member.

"He (Walker) cannot effectively work under the conditions the board has allowed," Walden's letter said. "My resignation will follow Tim Walker's if and when he resigns. The Board of Trustees will have the load of administrating cast upon their shoulders if that happens. It is my policy not to involve myself with board politics but now the board needs to address the problem."

The board also passed a resolution Monday "affirming the administration and president and those of his team," Butler said following the meeting.

MCU closed to about 2,000 traditional and Advantage students on June 30 after its federal funding was cut off due to improper or incomplete federal financial aid paperwork was repeatedly rejected. On June 26, MCU sent a letter to students advising it would offer no-interest loans to repay their debts to the university over the next 10 years.

Just before the meeting Monday night, Hawkins called on the board to forgive all student debt. He said some accounts are in dispute and one student was given a bill statement showing classes that he never registered to take and did not take.

"The account balances are in question .... we don't know how accurate everything is," he said.

A recent memo Hawkins sent to local news media states Walker had assured the board that the Kentucky Attorney General's Office had signed off on MCU sending the letters to collect student debts.

But the attorney general's office is investigating the university's new loan offer to students.

Information on the attorney general's website states: "We have informed Mid-Continent that we have concerns about the institutional loans, including the fact that they do not offer certain protections afforded by federal loans, such as forbearance or deferment options or other flexible payment schedules. We have demanded further information from Mid-Continent related to this issue." Butler would not comment on the investigation Monday.

"The Attorney General's Office is very concerned," Hawkins said. "I believe that the Office of the Attorney General is working hard to protect the students and to get to a resolution."

Hawkins said he has heard from an attorney who mentioned representing students in a possible lawsuit  against the school because the university did not inform students of its long-term financial issues until this year.

Other trustees would not comment Monday. Hawkins said he is not sure what the future of MCU looks like.

"Nobody has come up with a plan," he said.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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