O'Leary: Fisk Could Run Out Of Operating Funds By Dec. 15 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

O'Leary: Fisk Could Run Out Of Operating Funds By Dec. 15

NASHVILLE. Tenn. - Fisk University president and alumna Hazel O'Leary said the Nashville school could run out of operating funds before year's end.

"It's actually true almost every December for every small liberal arts and private institution," she said.

O'Leary said the liberal arts school has faced this problem every year since she became president in 2004 and years preceding her tenure.

The historically black university tried to sell its stake in an art collection donated by Georgia O'Keeffe.

The school wants to use money from a $30 million deal to share its Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art, but that deal has been stalled for two years.

"The fly in our ointment is the case hasn't moved along," O'Leary said.

The school wants to use the money to meet payroll and stay out of debt.

A trial to determine whether the school can sell its stake will begin in February 2008.

"I'm the president who's never touched the endowment and so I'm very busy with my colleagues looking for other, what I call, short-term cash opportunities," she said.

If the deal doesn't go through, the president and board of trustees hope to come up with an alternative since the school doesn't have any other assets to mortgage.

"Right now, no specific plan D to talk about. It's being worked on but it's not ready to talk about," she said.

Students such as Jamar Johnston said it would be a great loss if the school closed.

Leaders such as trustee Howard Gentry hope reversing the school's current financial crisis doesn't mean students will have to beg for money. The famed Fisk Jubilee Singers choir began when students went on a fundraising concert tour in 1871 to save the then-5-year-old school.

"You should not have your students on the corner begging, but maybe some of the trustees, some of the others, not necessarily go on the corner begging, but go to the corners of these United States of America," Gentry said.

"Stay tuned because before Dec. 15 will tell the world whether we've made it or we haven't," O'Leary said.

O'Leary said she has a strong feeling that the school find a way to come up with enough money to keep the university operating until the trial begins.

This is a problem school officials have kept quiet about in the past. But recent media attention has caused O'Leary to frequently receive phone calls from alumni and people in the community asking how they can help.

Between 2002 and 2004, the school spent $7.5 million from its $14.7 million endowment. The remaining funds in the endowment are restricted.

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