Martin professor’s ouster sparks student protests

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Martin University students upset over the firing of a popular professor are staging protests over the direction the school has taken under new President Algeania Freeman.

Freeman in January replaced the Rev. Boniface Hardin, a Benedictine monk who founded the inner-city school 30 years ago. She since has roiled many faculty members and students by letting go employees-many times without reason, they contend-as part of a strategy to cut costs.

IBJ reported their concerns in July. But the Oct. 20 firing of Harry Murphy, an anthropology and sociology instructor, fanned the flames. Murphy had taught at Martin for 10 years and suspected he would be the next to go, he said when contacted by IBJ at his Gosport home.

He thinks his termination stems from questioning a part of an e-mail from administrators regarding Martin's accreditation status, which is in question and being reviewed by the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Murphy acknowledged that Freeman has been successful in securing funding for the university but reiterated complaints from her critics that she routinely harasses and humiliates employees.

Freeman previously told IBJ she has hit her two main objectives for the state's only predominantly black university: Cut costs and increase fund raising. Freeman said she reversed a $653,000 annual deficit that existed upon her arrival, in large part by collecting $450,666 in contributions, cutting the 95-person staff 25 percent, and eliminating non-essential expenses.

Roughly $3 million in other debt remains, though. Much of that is tied to a building constructed eight years ago. The loans further threaten the university's accreditation, said Danita Hoskin, Martin's coordinator of institutional advancement. The commission has deemed the university "fiscally fragile."

Board members say Freeman is accomplishing what they instructed her to do: balance the budget, restructure the curriculum and increase gifts.

Freeman encountered problems in a previous job. From 2001 to 2004, she served as president of Livingstone College, a small, private institution in Salisbury, N.C. Her tenure ended abruptly when trustees placed her on administrative leave and never asked her to return.

Students are distributing press releases adorned with the university logo to alert the public about their protests. But Hoskin said disgruntled ex-employees, not students, are responsible for the releases and protests.

Citing confidentiality of personnel matters, she declined to comment on Murphy's firing. But she said Martin is moving forward with "great things" that are occurring there.

Murphy, meanwhile, is hopeful he will be reinstated. Despite the turmoil, he enjoyed teaching older, nontraditional students. Martin, at 2171 Avondale Place, has roughly 220 students and offers 17 undergraduate and two graduate degrees.

"I'm praying to God this is settled quickly and I'm back with my students Monday morning," he said.

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