Augusta, Georgia – Paine College has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia seeking declaratory, monetary, and injunctive relief against the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The lawsuit and motion seek an emergency injunction from a federal district judge compelling SACSCOC to restore Paine College as a member of SACSCOC, restore Paine College’s accreditation, and prevent SACSCOC’s removal decision from taking effect.
The lawsuit alleges that SACSCOC violated Paine’s right to due process as guaranteed by federal law in several respects. For example, as alleged in the lawsuit:
- A high-ranking SACSCOC employee had improper, substantive conversations regarding Paine’s appeal with the hearing officer and the chair of the appeals committee outside of the presence of Paine or its attorneys the evening prior to the appeals hearing. This conversation was a serious violation of SACSCOC’s own rules and procedures and the Higher Education Act.
- This same high-ranking SACSCOC employee, in violation of SACSCOC’s own procedures, failed to provide Paine with important documentation that SACSCOC was required to provide to Paine for its appeal.
- SACSCOC, in violation of federal law and its own procedures, prohibited Paine from submitting the most significant evidence of its financial resources and stability to the appeals committee, its unqualified audited 2016 financial statements. The audited financial statements provide evidence that Paine is in significantly better financial condition today than when SACSCOC last reaffirmed its accreditation in 2011.
“I believe the actions of a SACSCOC staff member who engaged in improper communications with the hearing officer and chair of the appeals committee prior to the appeals hearing created the appearance of impropriety and possibly tainted the adjudicative process,” said Michael Thurmond, Chair-elect of the Paine Board of Trustees.
Paine College President Dr. Samuel Sullivan stated, “The hearing officer’s decision to prohibit the admission of Paine’s unqualified 2016 audited financial statements prevented the appeals committee from seeing verified evidence that Paine had a balanced budget, reduced liabilities, increased unrestricted net assets and was in full compliance with the Principles of Accreditation.”
Paine has engaged Gus H. Small, Brent W. Herrin, and Benjamin S. Klehr, attorneys with the law firm Cohen Pollock Merlin & Small, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia, as its counsel in this matter. Attorneys Small, Herrin, and Klehr are experienced in representing institutions of higher education in accreditation issues with SACSCOC. Paine refers all questions regarding the specifics of the litigation to its attorneys.
Paine College, affiliated with The United Methodist Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, was founded in 1882 and is located in Augusta, Georgia. The mission of Paine College is to provide a liberal arts education of the highest quality that emphasizes academic excellence, ethical and spiritual values, social responsibility, and personal development to prepare men and women for positions of leadership and service in the African American community, the nation, and the world.