Saint Paul’s College Proceeds to Close Its Doors
July 22, 2013
by B. Denise Hawkins
Millard Stith was appointed executive administrator of Saint Paul’s College.
This time of year, signs welcoming students back to Saint Paul’s
should be ready to roll out, but instead, quiet fills the campus air.
For those making the drive along the rolling hills and backroads of
rural Lawrenceville, Va.’s Brunswick County to the sprawling lifeless
campus on a hill, they know it will probably be their last look when
they enter the gates of their alma mater.
The security guard stationed at the entrance is instructed to check
drivers’ licenses, then welcome and wave guests through onto Saint
Paul’s College campus, the place these former students have called home
for four years, says Millard D. “Pete” Stith Jr., who was appointed
executive administrator of the College on July 2. Since news of the
college’s closing, alumni cruising and strolling about the ghostlike
campus have been frequent visitors. In Saint Paul’s final months and
days of operation, Stith’s predecessor stepped down, and the interim
president’s contract ran out.
Today, Stith, the former vice president for institutional advancement, is the Saint Paul’s College “closer.”
For Stith, a small part of the plan for shuttering the 125-year-old
historically Black college will be as simple as turning off the lights
and locking the doors to all but the administration and finance
buildings. Stith and about 26 staff members are trying to pay eager
creditors while coordinating the transfer of Saint Paul students to
nearby Black colleges as a part of a state Teach Out Agreement that
allows them to enroll if they meet admissions requirements. In the other
36 campus buildings, the water, electricity and phone service is being
shut off in classrooms, faculty apartments, the president’s house, the
cafeteria and in dormitories.
“Why keep the utilities on in buildings that we’re not using? We’re
trying to raise money by saving money,” says Stith, who was retired when
the board tapped him nearly a year ago to launch an aggressive
fundraising effort they hoped would take the private college off of life
support, at least for a little while. His other responsibilities during
the closure include complying with the U.S. Department of Education’s
guidelines for storing student records and issuing academic transcripts,
and returning more than a million dollars in unused federal Title III
funds that the college did not draw down when it was operating.
Late last year, a merger-acquisition plan with Saint Augustine’s
University, a historically Black institution in Raleigh, N.C., seemed to
be the lifeline Saint Paul’s needed. But in May, Saint Augustine’s
dashed those plans, saying that acquiring the college was “not a
fiscally responsible option.”
The Saint Augustine’s proposal “was their best option,” concluded the
Right Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, a member of the Saint Paul’s College
board and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. Saint
Paul’s College, along with Saint Augustine’s University and Voorhees
College in Denmark, S.C., are the only three HBCUs affiliated with the
“We loved Saint Paul’s and believed in its legacy, but making
financial gifts to the college was growing more difficult for the
diocese and for local rural churches that were also struggling,” says
Hollerith. Saint Paul’s, founded by the church in September 1888 to
educate Blacks, needed more than the strength of its legacy to thrive,
Hollerith points out.
Over a century ago, Saint Paul’s mission was largely to prepare Black
teachers, but in recent decades, Hollerith says what was so “critically
needed” for the college “was a vision for the future. They needed to
learn how to reinvent themselves as an institution, but that didn’t
happen.” The course of Saint Paul’s fateful end had been wending for a
long time, added Hollerith. For nearly a decade, mounting “loan debt”
mired the college, leaving it nowhere to go but down, he said.
Stith is hopeful that Saint Paul, like a Phoenix, will rise again. He
has grounds keepers busy in case a serious suitor wants to purchase
Saint Paul’s most tangible asset, its sprawling 183-acre campus, and
continue its mission of educating African-American students.