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Sojourner-Douglass mulls Supreme Court petition

Sojourner-Douglass College's building in East Baltimore. (File photo)

Sojourner-Douglass College’s building in East Baltimore. (File photo)

Sojourner-Douglass College’s last chance to regain its accreditation would be in the hands of the Supreme Court.

A U.S. District Court judge granted summary judgment last year in favor of the accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision in April and denied the college’s petition for rehearing earlier this month, starting the 90-day period during which review by the Supreme Court can be requested.

John H. Morris Jr., a lawyer for the school, said Tuesday a petition for writ of certiorari, which must be filed by Oct. 1, is being explored.

Sojourner-Douglass’ accreditation was withdrawn June 30, 2015 after a nearly four-year process with the commission, which found the school lacked institutional financial viability. Without accreditation, the East Baltimore college cannot receive federal funds; at least 80 percent of the college’s tuition revenue comes from federal grants and loans.

The college, which was created in 1972 in Baltimore and had several satellite campuses in Maryland, experienced severe financial difficulties, losing more than $5 million in 2012.

In its lawsuit, the school alleged the commission “moved the goal post” during the process by changing requests and refusing to allow additional evidence at a later appeal hearing, but the trial judge found that claim was not supported by evidence and the three-judge appellate panel found no reversible error.

The appellate case is Sojourner-Douglass College v. Middle States Association, No. 16-1673.

Online options

Approximately half of the 1,400 students still at the school in 2015 transferred to other institutions with the assistance of Sojourner-Douglass, former president Charles W. Simmons said Tuesday.

For those who remained, Sojourner-Douglass entered an agreement with Bethune-Cookman University, a historically-black college in Daytona Beach, Florida to offer online classes. The Maryland Higher Education Commission approved Bethune-Cookman to offer online programs in the state in December.

Simmons, who was designated as the Maryland representative for the effort, said online courses offer the flexibility that Sojourner-Douglass tried to give its students with evening and weekend classes as well as childcare.

“They can do it from home, they can do it at 10 o’clock at night, midnight,” he said. “They have more flexibility online.”

Alumni have been supportive, according to Simmons, and Sojourner-Douglass remains a presence in the community.

“We’re trying to do what we’ve always done, just trying to serve the community,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Sojourner-Douglass is one of the stakeholders that founded Change4Real, a grassroots organization seeking to revitalize the Old Town Mall-area.

“We were more than just a college offering classes,” Simmons said. “We were helping some of our graduates start businesses. We’ve been concerned with the human potential in the community from the outset.”

In 2015, Beatty Development Group and Henson Development Co., among others, submitted a plan for the Old Town site, and Change4Real is the “human development” part of the project, according to Simmons. Organizers are trying to organize businesses and local entrepreneurs willing to open in the community.

Morris said a “palpable legacy” for the school will be what type of community ultimately emerges.

“I think Sojourner-Douglass was always more than a school,” said Morris, a Baltimore solo practitioner. “It was a source of connection, an anchor for people in the community.”

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