Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 589
October 22 1987
In Re: A Request From the West Virginia Annual Conference and the New York Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of the Ruling and Decision of the University Senate of the United Methodist Church as to Morristown College.
Statement of Facts
Morristown College is a two-year college; it has been one of the traditional Black Methodist colleges. The College has a long history of financial difficulty affecting the life of the institution. During the period 1973 through 1986 , the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church (BHEM) was involved five times in crisis management of the institution. Morristown College was placed on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in December 1984 and remains on probation to this date. As a result of the College being placed on probation, a team for the University Senate visited the College on January 3, 1985. The report of the Senate team contained seven recommendations and concluded with the statement, "If there is no positive response (to the seven  recommendations), the Senate will take action at the end of sixty (60) days to place Morristown College on probation." The Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the University Senate held on January 10, 1985, contain the following item: Morristown College-The Commission received the report of the Review Committee visit for information, recommended that the College be continued on the list of United Methodist institutions, and instructed staff to monitor the situation and, if necessary, call a meeting of the Senate to act on probation, after sixty days. These recommendations were not met, and Morristown College was placed on probation by the Senate in March 1985. Financial support for the College from the Black College Fund, however, continued. A year later, the Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the University Senate contained the notation: Morristown College-The College is still experiencing financial difficulty. The Senate may need to send a team to review the situation. During the last week in February, the President and business manager of the College appeared in Nashville indicating that they would not be able to meet the current payroll of $60,000 and a bank note of $60,000 due the end of the month. BHEM made an emergency advance at this time of $120,000 from the Black College Fund. On March 7, 1986, a team visited the College and produced a written report dated March 14, 1986. As a result of the oral report from the visiting team and the emergency cash advance which evidenced mounting financial difficulty, at a March 10, 1986, meeting of the Board of Trustees of the College in Nashville, members of the Commission on Black Colleges, the University Senate, and legal counsel reported to the Trustees that the viability of the College was in serious question and advised the Trustees that worsening conditions threatened the continuation of the United Methodist support. At the Executive Committee meeting of the University Senate held on March 25, 1986, a resolution was passed to recommend to the University Senate at its June meeting, through the Commission on Black Colleges, that Morristown College be removed from the list of United Methodist colleges and universities. A letter from the University Senate dated March 27, 1986, was sent to the President of the College informing him of this action. As a result of these events, the Board of Trustees of the College on April 12, 1986 voted 11 to 9 with 3 abstentions to close the institution on June 30, 1986. At that time, the College, located in a region of the country in which it is difficult to recruit Black students, had an accumulated deficit of $1.2 million, an operational deficit estimated at $250,000, only 148 students, and was on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. On May 17, 1986, at a called meeting of the Board of Trustees of the College, the Board voted to rescind the action of April 12, 1986, and adopt a 12-point plan they hoped would guarantee the continuation of the College. At the semiannual meeting of the University Senate in June 1986, officials of the College appeared before the Commission on Black Colleges. The Commission and the University Senate determined the College did not fulfill the standards required by the Discipline to continue on the approved list of colleges. Implementation of the removal was to be delayed until August 15, 1986, in order to allow Morristown College time to present evidence to the Commission on Black Colleges to refute the action taken by the University Senate. After reviewing any evidence that might be presented by the College, the Commission on Black Colleges was either to confirm the action of the University Senate or recommend to the Senate that its action be reconsidered. All of this was communicated to the College by a letter from the University Senate dated June 27, 1986. This action by the University Senate received the approval of the resident bishop, R. Kern Eutsler, as expressed in a letter from him to the President of the University Senate, Roy B. Shilling, Jr. dated July 2, 1986. The Commission on Black Colleges did receive a report from the Trustees of Morristown College, and after giving it due consideration at its meeting on August 15, 1986, and hearing from representatives of the College, voted 7 to 1 not to ask the University Senate to reconsider its action to remove Morristown College from the approved list. Written confirmation of this action was communicated to the College by letter dated August 19, 1986, from Roy B. Shilling, Jr., President of the University Senate, to Dan J. Smith, President of Morristown College. Morristown College responded by means of a telegram dated September 30, 1986, which indicated the College was planning to open for the fall 1986 term and would attempt to convince the University Senate to reverse its June decision which was implemented August 15, 1986. The University Senate responded to this telegram by a letter from Roy B. Shilling, Jr. to Dan J. Smith dated October 23, 1986, wherein Shilling indicated that the College should apply to be relisted. More detailed instructions were later sent to Dan J. Smith in letters from Shilling dated December 8, 1986, June 15, 1987, and July 7, 1987. Under the provisions of 1517.1 of the 1984 Discipline, "[t]he University Senate [is] the professional educational advisory agency for The United Methodist Church and all educational institutions related to it." Discipline 1517.2, 3, 4 provide for the membership and organization of the University Senate. 1520 sets forth the responsibilities of the University Senate which include publishing an annual list "classifying United Methodist-affiliated institutions" and annually preparing a list of approved schools, colleges, universities, and graduate theological seminaries for use by Annual Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry in determining candidate educational eligibility for admission into full connection." It is the responsibility of the University Senate "[t]o provide an effective review process so that institutions that qualify for University Senate affiliation and church support will be recognized as having well-structured programs, sound management, and clearly defined church relationships." (1518.3). Approval by the Senate is a prerequisite to an institutional claim of affiliation with The United Methodist Church (1519.1). Only institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church are eligible for funding by Annual Conferences, General Conference, general boards or other agencies of The United Methodist Church (1519.3). The Senate is required to provide adequate guidelines and counsel to assist institutions seeking initial or renewed affiliation (1519.2). To qualify for affiliation with The United Methodist Church, institutions must maintain appropriate academic accreditation. (1519.4). The action of the University Senate has been appealed by the West Virginia Annual Conference and the New York Annual Conference on behalf of Morristown College. It is alleged the University Senate violated provisions of the Discipline; that there were violations of due process and conflicts of interest; and that "equal opportunity, discovery and general fair play" were denied. We have examined the record carefully and diligently and have heard the oral arguments presented on behalf of the University Senate by Roy B. Shilling, Jr. and Morristown College by William James and John Collins of the New York Annual Conference and Richard Bowyer of the West Virginia Annual Conference. At the time of the review by the University Senate which resulted in the removal of Morristown College from the approved list, the College had been on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools since December 1984. At the same time investigation by the University Senate disclosed that:(1) the College could not meet its February, 1986 payroll without an advance from the Black College Fund; (2) the College did not show evidence of being able to meet operating costs for the remainder of the fiscal year; and (3) the accumulated debt of the College was in excess of $1 million, with serious problems involving federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service. While we are sympathetic to the plight of Morristown College we are equally concerned with the educational integrity of all educational institutions related to The United Methodist Church. From the record presented to us, we find the University Senate acted within its disciplinary responsibilities. Although there may be disagreement with the actions taken by the University Senate, we do not find them to have been improper or contrary either to the Constitution or the Discipline. From the record and from the oral hearing, however, we are uncertain as to whether the appropriate appeal process has been followed by the parties. Under the Procedures and Guidelines for Institution Reviews promulgated by the University Senate the appeals process is described as follows: If a negative decision is made by the University Senate, the institution will have ninety days in which to submit a formal, written appeal directed to the Senate through the Commission on Institutional Review. There should be a clear statement of reasons for the appeal and appropriate supporting documents. At the time of its consideration by the Commission, the institution may have its case presented by three representatives-the chief executive officer, the chair of the board of Trustees, and one other person, who shall be a member of a constituency related to the institution. Upon completion of the review, the Commission shall present its recommendation to the University Senate, and the Senate's action shall be binding. While the record describes a 60 day "appeal" to the Commission on Black Colleges, nowhere do we find evidence of an appeal as provided by the Procedures and Guidelines. Therefore this matter is remanded to the University Senate with the following instructions: 1. Morristown College has 90 days from November 1, 1987 to perfect an appeal to the University Senate, in accordance with the Principles and Guidelines of the University Senate. 2. Pending the determination of the appeal, the delisting of Morristown College as a United Methodist College is stayed. During the process of appeal the affiliation of the College with the United Methodist Church will be in effect, pending the final determination by the University Senate.