Is New College dying? - Page 2

The famed liberal arts school faces a financial crisis after a tough year

She's received her financial aid for the fall semester, but her last $1,200 check for her work-study job as a legal clerk bounced. Bourn says that while she's fortunate enough to receive help from a partner who works, one of her classmates was forced to return to Pennsylvania because he couldn't continue paying rent without federal assistance.

"It has just been one disaster after another," Bourn said. "Last year I didn't receive my financial aid for several months because of difficulty after difficulty with [New College's] financial aid department."

Recently departed president Hamilton had vowed to stay on for up to a year during a transition period, but Ralph Woolf, the executive director for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, insisted during a July meeting with the school that it would be "unacceptable" for Hamilton to stay, according to minutes.

WASC's accreditation commission for senior colleges suspended New College in June after a rare special investigation revealed flawed financial controls, sloppy record keeping of student files, and ill-conceived academic curricula. A blistering report from the commission concluded, for instance, that the school couldn't explain the course requirements and specific content of its Pilot Hybrid Leadership in Urban Transformed Environments program, which New College hoped would benefit adult African Americans who otherwise have trouble accessing higher education.

"The commission has repeatedly found that, in addition to longstanding and ongoing financial challenges, New College did not have systems and structures in place in very basic areas of operation, including governance, faculty oversight of academic matters, assessment of student learning, and financial management and accounting," the report stated.

WASC will decide in February whether to remove New College from probation or strip the school of its accreditation. Woolf refused to comment when we called his office.

Molina said the school may also have to liquidate some of the buildings it owns in San Francisco to maintain solvency. In the meantime, he said, a committee charged with finding a new president for the school has identified three candidates for the job.

"The students, the faculty, the staff — there's a huge commitment to keep the college open," Molina said. "It's part of the social fabric of San Francisco.... Nancy Pelosi is a strong supporter of the college. I know her office is concerned.... We're doing everything we can to make sure this college can survive."

Money woes and accreditation problems were a common occurrence during Hamilton's rocky tenure, which often divided the campus into factions of supporters and opponents of his administration.

New College bought one of San Francisco's oldest and most beloved movie theaters in January 2006 in an effort to save it from closure. But employees at the Roxie Film Center on 16th Street are now unsure about its future. Sunny Angulo has worked there for two and a half years. A payroll check from early November bounced, and she hasn't received checks for the two following pay periods.

"We have seen single-screen, small independent theaters all over the city — all over the country, really — close down," Angulo said. "They're sitting around rotting. Without another source of revenue tying in a nonprofit, educational component, I think that it would be very difficult for the Roxie to survive. Almost impossible."

Peter Gabel, a board trustee of New College, admitted during a small Dec. 14 all-campus meeting that he'd recently loaned the school money to help cover payroll expenses.

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