To our Oakwood Family, Friends, and Supporters:
The 40-member Oakwood University Board of Trustees held an eight-hour working session on Monday, October 16th. They reviewed reports, institutional progress, and rumors surrounding the financial state of the University that were circulating on social media.
After reviewing the financial records of the University, the Board found that certain assertions were based on misunderstandings. The Board focused on the University’s financial challenges during their Executive Session, which are being addressed in various ways and will be announced once the audit for this year is completed. The Board recognizes that faith-based education institutions face particular financial challenges, and Oakwood University is no exception. Despite these challenges, discussions with our Auditors and OU financial staff have underscored that the leveraged debt of the University does not threaten its solvency.
The Board also appointed a cohort of Trustees to hear the concerns of a group of concerned stakeholders. Five members of this group presented their concerns to the Board’s representatives and the Board promised to respond on or before October 31. The Chairman of the Board, Dr. Alex Bryant, said, “This entire episode reminds us how important it is in the modern era to communicate more frequently with our stakeholders about the issues around which we feel mutual concern.”
Please let us share some updates from the most recent Oakwood University Board of Trustees meeting addressing the concerns of select stakeholders.
Last year, OU’s Nursing Department had a 91% pass rate for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX.) We were notified by the Alabama Board of Nursing that this year’s NCLEX pass rate is 100%. Both students who took the test passed on the first attempt. While this may seem like a small number, what it symbolizes is very important as it marks a successful return for the Oakwood nursing program.
Growing Diversity Amongst Student Population
Oakwood University is a 127-year-old Seventh-day Adventist Historically Black College and University (HBCU). In recent years, our institution has been blessed to see significant growth in enrollment among our international population. Remarkably, our Latino student population has grown by over 150% in the last five years. Our Continental African refugee student base has risen by more than 500%.
Oakwood’s world-renowned choir, the Aeolians, will benefit from renovations for the Music Department that are scheduled to be completed in Spring 2024. This important project is funded by external sources.
Oakwood University has a legacy of musical excellence that is second to none in the world of higher education. Last year, seven alums were nominated for Grammy Awards. Our school’s rich musical history also encompasses music legend Little Richard, 10-time Grammy award winner Take 6, and the world-renowned Aeolians. Oakwood’s rich musical history spans generations, with no signs of slowing down.
At Honors Convocation 2022, the University’s academic departments awarded more than 60 students with scholarships.
Within the last 15 months, Oakwood University has received two important grants. The first, from the United Negro College Fund, is a $1 million award that will go toward enhancing our enrollment processes. The second is a generous award of nearly $1 million from the Lilly Endowment that will help fund a unique Master of Arts in Urban Ministry and Community Development.
Expanding Our Academic Outreach
The U.S. Department of Education announced it has selected an additional 73 institutions to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experiment, which has helped incarcerated individuals access higher education programming since 2015. With its third wave of new additions, the program now comprises 200 institutions that are leading the way on this unique initiative, which continues to ramp up as Pell Grant reinstatement occurs. The new group of 73 includes Oakwood University and 23 other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and minority-serving institutions that hope to discontinue that downward trend and get students closer to being re-acclimated into society. The University also admitted its inaugural class of 13 students into its new Masters of Social Work in August 2023.
Oakwood Live 2023
Oakwood Live attracted 950 registrants, which included 700 high school students. This is an all-time record attendance. 320 students were granted early acceptance.
Oakwood University is proud of its faculty; they are dedicated and believe in our mission. In the current school year, 96% of our faculty returned to their classrooms.
Other critical staffing needs are currently under study and, where needed, are being filled. The University regularly examines its need for faculty and staff, and related competitive pay and benefits. The University is committed to providing competitive pay and benefits for faculty and staff.
The recent COVID pandemic put a strain on enrollment. Many universities have struggled to recover from the stress of remote learning and maintaining a healthy and safe campus. We are confident that our recruitment plans, with increasing support from alumni and friends, will result in larger future freshman classes and enhance retention.
Safe and well-maintained housing is vital and essential to all at Oakwood University. Maintenance related to normal wear and tear is included in the University’s operating budget. Capital improvements are funded separately. We are committed to ensuring students know how to report maintenance concerns. Any student with concerns is encouraged to contact the Dean, Associate/Assistant Dean, or Resident Assistant of their residence halls, annex, or West Oaks Apartments. They can also email questions about their particular facility at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Board of Trustees learned of the technology challenges facing Oakwood University. Short-term, mid-term, and long-term strategies were approved in a vote by the Board. The immediate demands of Wi-Fi coverage and accessibility have been addressed through the purchase of high-grade equipment designed for curricular and co-curricular activities.
We are required by our accreditation agency to make available and post financial statements to the University’s publics. Oakwood University’s audited financial statements are and have been available on the school’s website for 12 years. Our website is being updated to allow easier access. For example: https://oakwood.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021-OU-FINANCIAL-STATEMENTS.pdf
Oakwood University’s Integrated Marketing and Public Relations communications typically occur on a variety of platforms, including in-person, online, and through Adventist publications. Going forward, the Board of Trustees is committed to increasing communication with the Oakwood community more widely.
Oakwood University is proud of its 21,000 + alumni and our extended community of parents, donors, and friends. Given the size of this community, it is helpful and necessary that a protocol is in place for our people to share their ideas, comments, and concerns with the Board of Trustees. Please share your thoughts through the website https://oakwood.edu/customer-care/
We have a Customer Care Coordinator with principal responsibility for receiving and triaging messages in this online portal. This employee will direct your comment(s) to the appropriate persons and departments for response.
The Oakwood University Board of Trustees is sharing some additional information with you.
Questions have been raised about lawsuits and personnel matters involving current and former Oakwood employees.
Concerning the status of lawsuits involving the University, after discussing the issue with our lawyers, we are unable to discuss any pending litigation outside of the meetings of the Board of Trustees at this time.
Employment records are private and confidential by law. We cannot share those private records.
Additionally, Oakwood University operates under a strict group of government regulations known as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.) These regulations prevent us from discussing anyone’s medical or insurance information.
To discuss any medical or insurance information and employment records, we would need the consent of the employee. In the meantime, in order to have a candid and transparent conversation regarding these issues, the person must submit a Human Resources Release form that allows the University to safely discuss any and all relevant background information, reports, or file contents related to the testimonials of the complainants. This will allow Oakwood University and the Board of Trustees to have a transparent discussion of these concerns. We ask that the persons voicing public concerns need to complete the form and return it to the Office of Human Resources.
Our radio station, WJOU-FM, was off the air for one day this year after a major storm and area-wide power outages. The online stream was down for a short time and has been re-established. We appreciate that donors are willing to assist the radio station by funding much-needed technology upgrades for the station.
Like other institutions of higher education in the pandemic and post-pandemic era, we have faced many struggles.
We have spoken with the owner of Clean Supreme. Payment has been made in full. We apologize for the delay.
We have met and continue to meet our payroll obligations. After the cyber attack, there were delays during the time our management system was being restored. Accordingly, some payments were delayed due to 3rd party technical difficulties.
For the past 12 years, Oakwood University has demonstrated significant fiscal strength. This year, the school is facing some financial challenges. Financial controls are being put in place. More financial information will be shared after our independent audit is complete.
The following statement is from our external auditor:
“Our unique partnership with the Oakwood University Community QALICB and the OU Huntsville Investment Fund creates a delicate balance on our balance sheet. With $11,719,250 in receivables and $14,975,920 in payables, we’re dedicated to strategic investments that ensure financial stability.”
“Over the subsequent seven years, Oakwood University will effectively channel funds received from the OU Huntsville Investment Fund to support key projects such as the CHAC (Community Health Action Center), Peters Hall, and Oakwood Farms Market. This strategic approach guarantees that the difference between the Receivable and Payable is covered, making a significant contribution to the institution’s financial stability and ultimate success.”
We recognize the need to enhance our connection and relationship with the Oakwood University community. To help meet that goal, Oakwood University and the Board of Trustees have announced they will hold a major town hall via Zoom, open to alumni and the Oakwood Community from across the country and around the world. Details will be shared as soon as available. Additionally, representatives from the Board of Trustees and the University are scheduling multiple visits across the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, which are the significant places from where the students come. These events will provide an opportunity for a meaningful conversation.
“Success Has an Address” is the slogan used by Oakwood University. Success results from many people working toward a common goal. Our goal rests in our mission statement. The mission of Oakwood University, a Seventh-day Adventist HBCU institution, is to transform students through biblically-based education for service to God and humanity. We ask all to recommit to this mission.
Alexander Bryant, Chairman. Leslie N. Pollard, Secretary