Sojourner-Douglass sues Middle States Commission over loss of accreditation

The Baltimore Sun
Sojourner-Douglass College sues Middle States Commission over loss of accreditation

Sojourner-Douglass College is suing the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, alleging the organization discriminated against the predominantly black college in withdrawing its accreditation Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland, says the Baltimore college has met "the terms of the [commission's] warning notice point after point" but the accrediting body arbitrarily changed those terms. That action violates the Civil Rights Act of 1867, the lawsuit states.

A lawyer representing the commission declined to comment Wednesday.

Schools that lose accreditation are ineligible for federal funding. Sojourner-Douglass, which employs 125 and enrolled 750 students as of February, receives most of its funding through federal Pell Grants.

"Without access to this essential funding, nearly all of [Sojourner-Douglass] students will not be able to continue their studies at the College," the lawsuit states. "The College thus will not be able to offer courses during the Fall 2015 semester and thus will cease operations immediately."

The lawsuit also says that "negotiations fell through" between the Baltimore college and two other institutions of higher education to transfer programs. In April, Virginia-based Stratford University said it wanted to make the college part of its system.

In addition to suing the commission, Sojourner-Douglass asked the court for an order delaying the withdrawal of its accreditation by 14 days. The court denied the motion.

Sojourner-Douglass plans to file for an injunction by Friday, according to an email from college President Charles Simmons. The school will "defend its position that the withdrawal of accreditation by Middle States was so arbitrary and capricious that it cannot be allowed lawfully to stand," he said in the email.

In 2011, the commission found the school had inadequate financial resources, student learning outcomes and goal-setting. Though the college resolved two of the issues, it remained in financial trouble.

The Internal Revenue Service filed more than $5 million in tax liens against the school last year.

trichman@baltsun.com

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