Lon Morris College Woes Throw Students, Community Off Course
By KELLY GOOCH
JACKSONVILLE -- Many sidewalks across campus were abandoned.
Empty security vehicles sat in a parking lot, and students shuffled in and out of the Wilson Administration Building, some checking on transcripts, talking with employees or trying to get into their locked dorms, which they must be out of today.
It was the scene at Lon Morris College on Thursday, one day after the school confirmed that employees, other than a core group of 11, were furloughed and school President Dr. Miles McCall resigned.
The announcement came amid the school's efforts to reorganize and salvage the private two-year faith-based institution with the help of Bridgepoint Consulting, a Texas-based professional services provider.
Lon Morris will not offer summer courses and hopes to be able to rehire employees for the fall semester.
"We're going back up the mountainside right now. ... We're working on freshman orientation and things like that. ... We're full speed ahead," said Dave Hubbard, executive director of student enrollment and retention services.
On Thursday, some students were not as optimistic about the college's situation.
Sophomore Aaron Kervin was sitting down to eat in Tyler when he heard rumors and called his teacher, who confirmed actions the school had taken with employees.
"My stomach dropped. I was supposed to work on the oil rigs and stuff like that at the end of June because I was going to graduate (after Summer I), and I can't even do that. Everything's set off a month," he said.
Now the Jasper area native plans to take his remaining math course at Angelina College during Summer II and is deciding whether he will move back with his parents for a month.
Sophomores Amber Parker and David Shepherd were inside the administration building Thursday afternoon.
Ms. Parker said she feels bad for a lot of her friends who planned on attending Lon Morris this year, but she was not shocked to hear Wednesday's news.
She said her teacher was sad. However, the news hasn't affected her, she said, because she is transferring to a completely different school -- College of Health Care Professionals in Houston --
only one of her Lon Morris courses will transfer.
Shepherd said he, too, was not surprised at Wednesday's announcement because he had heard rumors. He plans to attend another school in the future.
Outside the administration building, Jacksonville High School student Angelica Gomez, who received dual credit from Lon Morris, expressed her own sentiment about the school's situation.
"The main thing that's got me is I volunteer with the (Lon Morris) band, (and) it's going to be hard not to see them. They're usually here playing," she said.
Ms. Gomez said she might consider Lon Morris if it offers courses in fall 2013.
Students weren't the only people weighing in around town.
Jacksonville resident Tina Hargett addressed her customers and friends who worked there, saying they've been loyal throughout the school's cash flow problems.
"Even when they weren't getting paid, (they continued) to work there and (be) supportive of the school ..." she said, adding that one instructor she knows was living off her credit card because she hadn't been paid.
"It's sad. They should have had a meeting and had everybody in front of them and said, 'We appreciate all you've done.' ... They knew it was in trouble, of course. They've been pretty much working for free ... but they were trying to be supportive of their jobs and of the school and the community. I kind of thought that was sad at the last minute for (a furlough notice) to be the way it went down."
Still, Ms. Hargett said she hopes someone takes the school over and gets it back up and running.
"They put their cart before the horse. ... They were just overcrowded (after adding new programs). It was poor planning I would say. It was either going to be really, really good (or bad)," she said. "Hopefully they can regroup and maybe get some new people on board. ... I think it's going to take some new faces and some new people on board to get the trust of the investors to want to put more money back into it."
Jacksonville Mayor Kenneth Melvin echoed Ms. Hargett, saying he is optimistic about the school's future.
"My initial reaction was very very concerned about the people that got furloughed, (but) I'm going to be optimistic and think they're doing everything they can do to reopen for the fall semester," he said.
"When you lose the salaries of all the employees except 11, you take that money out of circulation (in the local economy), then there are some people who had enrolled and that would have an affect also. It just kind of puts a gloom over the city, but I think there's some optimism going. ... I just hope that the reorganization people can get things in order and get everything rearranged so the institution can reopen in the fall, and people can get their jobs back."