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Civil rights activist, author and former NAACP Chair Myrlie Evers-Williams will give the convocation address at Fisk University’s commemoration of the legacy and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the Fisk Memorial Chapel. The convocation is free and the public is invited to attend.

Evers-Williams, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, attended Alcorn State University where she met and later married her first husband, the late Medgar Evers, who was appointed as the NAACP’s first field secretary of Mississippi in 1954. The couple organized efforts throughout the state of Mississippi to recruit new members for the organization and were leaders in the desegregation of local businesses and schools. The latter effort resulted in the University of Mississippi enrolling its first African-American student, James Meredith, in 1962. As their reputation grew during that time, the Evers were targeted for physical attacks. They experienced the bombing of their carport on May 28, 1963. A few weeks later, Medgar Evers was assassinated just outside of the family’s home in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963. 

Evers-Williams left Mississippi with her three children and moved to California where she earned her degree in sociology from Pomona College in 1968. After graduating, she served as director of consumer affairs at Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO.)  In 1970 and 1971, Evers-Williams ran for Congress and helped to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus.

In 1995, Evers-Williams became the first woman elected as chair of the Board of the NAACP. As the NAACP’s top official, Evers-Williams led efforts to restore the organization’s fiscal stability. She did not to seek a second term but founded the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, Mississippi to impact and train youth in creating positive change through civic engagement.  In 1999, Evers-Williams penned her autobiography, “Watch Me Fly.”

Additionally, Evers-Williams served as consultant for the 1996 film, “Ghosts of Mississippi.” The film recounts the third trial of Byron De La Beckwith who was convicted in 1994 of the murder of Medgar Evers. Evers-Williams is also the author of “For Us, The Living,” which recounts her courtship and marriage to Medgar Evers and the couple’s role as central figures of the Civil Rights Movement.

Since 1985, Fisk University has commemorated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the civil rights era gained momentum in the mid 1950’s, Dr. King’s first address at Fisk was at the University’s commencement exercises in 1956. Over the next decade, King’s appearances at Fisk galvanized an active student body who later organized non-violent demonstrations against racism in Nashville, Tennessee. Even before activists in the early 1980s worked to gain a national holiday for Dr. King, Fisk was one of the first Nashville institutions to hold commemorative events in his honor.

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In response to Fisk University’s November monitoring report, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) concluded that Fisk University maintains its reaffirmation of accreditation with a six-month warning. At the conclusion of the warning period, the University will submit a follow-up monitoring report that addresses SACS’s Comprehensive Standard for financial stability. A SACS warning is the lesser of the two sanction options, the other being probation.

Fisk University remains fully accredited. The University has met all of SACS’s Core Requirements. Federal funding for Fisk’s nationally ranked academic programs continues as does financial aid for students.

“Fisk’s work to improve financial stability is the key to removing the SACS warning,” said Fisk President Hazel R. O’Leary. “The path to financial stability includes three elements: a successful outcome with each annual fundraising effort; increasing Fisk’s net assets base which requires that Fisk increase its endowment; and a clean financial audit. This is why the board-approved sharing agreement with Crystal Bridges Museum of Art for undivided half-interest in the Stieglitz Collection in exchange for $30 million is vital to Fisk’s future.”

Dear Fisk Family:

It has been a busy week. Rather than speak with you electronically, the leadership team and I will meet with you to review the following actions.

-Stieglitz Litigation Update: Today the University filed an appeal regarding the Davidson County Chancery Court’s decision to restrict the use of $20 million of the $30 million resulting from the sharing agreement with Crystal Bridges Museum.

-Dr. M. Christopher Brown named as Alcorn St. University President effective January 2011

-The Restructuring of the University’s Provost Office

-Fisk’s SACS Compliance and Reports Committee’s Decision Regarding the University’s Monitoring Report

Please plan to attend our all hands meeting in the Fisk Memorial Chapel on Thursday, December 2nd at 2:30 p.m. Our meeting will last no more than one hour and we will provide the opportunity for questions.  Thank you for your attention.  We look forward to seeing you in the chapel.

Regards,

President Hazel R. O’Leary 

Dr. Sessi Aboh

Dr. Arnold Burger

Dr. Princilla Evans Morris

Fisk University announced today that it has filed a notice with the Davidson County Chancery Court that it will appeal the ruling of the Court concerning Fisk’s request to enter into a sharing arrangement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas for Fisk’s Stieglitz Art Collection.  On November 3, 2010 the Chancery Court ruled that Fisk was entitled to enter into the arrangement under which Crystal Bridges would acquire an undivided one-half interest in the Collection for a payment to Fisk of $30 million.  The Chancellor also ruled that Fisk could spend only $10 million of the $30 million at its discretion. The Court required that the remaining $20 million be placed in an independent endowment fund.  Under the terms of the endowment, Fisk would only be allowed to use approximately $1.0 million income from the endowment to support the display, preservation and art education regarding the Stieglitz Collection.

 Fisk President Hazel R. O’Leary stated:

 “This restriction effectively confiscates proceeds from the approved sharing agreement and places Fisk in a more risky position than before. During the trial, Fisk presented evidence that the annual direct cost to maintain the art gallery where the Collection is housed is approximately $130,000.  The Court has directed that Fisk dedicate approximately $1.0 million of income earned annually from the $20 million endowment for the support of the Collection exclusively.  It is inconceivable to decide that $870,000 should be used annually to care for and educate the public about the Collection. As a result, any excess earnings not required for those purposes are unavailable to the University for educational purposes, to attract high quality scholars and researchers to the faculty, to provide scholarships to its talented and underserved students, or to maintain the many historic buildings which require constant repairs on our campus.”

Chairman of the Board Rob Norton stated:

“The order will result in an excessive endowment for the art collection while ignoring the need to endow Fisk’s outstanding academic programs for which it has received national recognition. Simply stated, the $20 million that the Chancellor directed to an endowment to support the Stieglitz Collection and art education is excessive against the articulated needs of the University. While the $10 million directed to Fisk for its general use is grossly inadequate to put the University on a solid long term financial footing. Under the current ruling, the excessive overfunding of the Stieglitz Collection would starve the University’s core educational mission.   This leaves the University no choice but to appeal the Chancellor’s decision.”

Fisk officials further stated that it has always been the University’s intent that an adequate amount of the proceeds be set aside for the proper display, maintenance and conservation of the art.  In 2008, Fisk expended approximately $1.0 million to install security, fire prevention, lighting and climate control in the Van Vechten Gallery. Under the sharing agreement, such costs would be shared by Fisk and the Crystal Bridges Museum. Alice Walton, the major donor to the museum, has contractually agreed with Fisk to establish a $1.0 million endowment to be used for the same purpose when the sharing agreement is executed.

Fisk Alumnus and Chief Operating Officer of the United States Agency for International Development Alonzo Fulgham(’80)  charged Fisk’s freshmen class to offer their service to communities at home and abroad during the University’s Global and Community Lecture Series.

“Be passionate about the world you are inheriting,” Fulgham said. “Take a personal commitment to you your country and the world and make it a better place.”

In addition to a stellar turnout by Fisk’s Class of 2014,  members of the faculty and Nashville community were also in attendance for Fulgham’s lecture, “Why the World Needs You Now: Your Role in Economic Development and National Security Policy.”

Held in the Appleton Room of Jubilee Hall, Fulgham’s lecture was followed by a Q and A session with students. Fulgham spoke of his matriculation as a Fisk undergraduate remembering economics classes with professor Wilfred Davis and a roommate who served as the campus Peace Corps recruiter. He named these factors as influences on his initial aspirations for global service. Fulgham said the Fisk Experience also contributed to his preparation for leadership at USAID, a $15 billion sub cabinet agency that provides economic development and humanitarian assistance around the world.

“The world is a serious place,” Fulgham said. “The confidence that I have today…I got it from Fisk University.”

In 2006, Alonzo Fulgham was appointed as Chief Operating Officer of USAID. Fulgham directs the Agency through the implementation of its policies and reforms and assists the Secretary of State in reaching diplomacy goals. Fulgham has served at USAID since 1989 in a variety of capacities that include Private Sector Advisor in Swaziland and in Jordan and Deputy Director in Serbia and Montenegro.

Since 2006, Fisk’s Global and Community Lecture Series has introduced the city of Nashville to global and community leaders who demonstrate excellence in their respective areas and are respected as worldwide leaders and advocates for positive change. Fisk’s Global and Community Lecture Series has featured former U.S. Trade Representative The Honorable Mickey Kantor, Fisk alumnus, scholar, activist and distinguished professor Dr. Preston King as well as alumna, acclaimed poet, author and distinguished professor Nikki Giovanni.

The development brought to the attention of the Chancellor by the Attorney General in his filing of Friday, October 22nd, regarding the exhibition of the Stieglitz Art Collection, does not address Fisk’s fundamental financial challenge which is that without a large infusion of cash Fisk cannot continue to operate.

This unsubstantiated plan, purportedly funded by unknown donors and pledge amounts, is another scheme which fails to address Fisk’s survival.  The Court has already ruled that any proposal must address Fisk University’s overall financial health; the Attorney General’s plan does not mention Fisk’s well-being. 

Further, this plan purports to substitute the Frist Center with the Tennessee State Museum for the display and maintenance of the collection. Specifically, the Chancery Court stated:

 It would not be in keeping, then, with the donor’s intent to keep the Collection in Nashville at the cost of sacrificing the existence of Fisk University.

Fisk is Nashville’s first university and is the number one producer of African-Americans who go on to earn doctoral degrees in the natural sciences than any school in the nation.  

The only proposal before the Court which can provide for the permanent care of the art and allow Fisk University to continue its primary educational mission is the sharing arrangement with Crystal Bridges Museum.

Fisk alumna and acclaimed poet, author and educator Nikki Giovanni will be featured speaker and guest at Riverside Chapel’s “Riverside Conversations” on October 16th at 6:00 p.m. Riverside Chapel is located at 800 Young’s Lane in Nashville.

Giovanni has written nearly 30 books, has earned awards from the NAACP, Ebony Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal and Mademoiselle Magazine. In 2007, Giovanni served as Fisk University Distinguished Professor.

“Riverside Conversations” is an academic lecture forum that seeks to connect iconic professionals, athletes and entertainers with the Nashville community.