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Carson-Newman in the Clear with Accreditation Agency

Carson-Newman College has been cleared from the warning status imposed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges one year ago. C-N President Randall O’Brien said that although he had been “surprised” by the 2010 downgrade, he and C-N trustees “are deeply appreciative to the accrediting agency for their affirmation of what has been accomplished to date.”

The positive change was made after the organization’s Commission on Colleges examined C-N’s financial records of the last two years and a corresponding report written by school administrators. The body had placed the school on warning last year after deeming that the institution’s revenue surpluses were too low. The report included a plan detailing strides made and delineating initiatives to further cut costs and raise revenue, including a one moratorium on the institution’s retirement match for employee contributions.

“There is still work to do, and we are going to continue our diligent efforts to elevate C-N’s economic vitality to its level of academic excellence.” said O’Brien. “The biggest room in the world is room for improvement. And we are always going to strive to improve the way we operate the University because we are steadfastly committed to our vision of being the Christ-Centered, liberal arts-based school of choice in the Southeast for education and service.”

The president said last year’s warning was unexpected because the institution’s financial vitality was already on the upswing. He led a contingent to Orlando for the SACS annual meeting over the weekend with the understanding that the agency had three possible responses – clearance, continued warning, or probation.

A town hall meeting had been scheduled weeks before so O’Brien could deliver the news to C-N employees when he returned. Since a second year of warning is often the case following an initial warning, the good news of clearance led O’Brien to begin Tuesday afternoon’s information session with something of an impromptu Thanksgiving service.

He shared portions of Psalms 100 and 103 before those gathered sang the Doxology and Amazing Grace. O’Brien said he was grateful for the spirit in the room.

“Before anything else, we worshipped,” he said following the meeting. “SACS affirmed the good things we are doing to right the ship, and the way we responded to that news was to thank God for what He has done for us,” he said.

Dr. Mark Hussung, associate professor of music and interim dean of the School of Fine Arts, said he and his colleagues were “thrilled,” and noted, “The level of trust in Dr. O’Brien is tremendous.”

Longtime religion professor Dr. Don Garner said the clearance is a testament to direction provided by O’Brien.

“What this is is an affirmation of three years of strong presidential leadership; I believe that,” Garner said to a group of reporters gathering for a press conference shortly after the conclusion of the town hall gathering. “Three years of leadership has paid off in a SACS report.”

C-N’s Board of Trustees Chair C.T. Cozart said the agency’s action demonstrates that the institution is on the right track.

“We are certainly pleased to learn that SACS has validated the progress we have made by clearing us from its warning status. Our institution’s response to these challenges demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility and this news affirms that.

“Our President, Dr. Randall O’Brien, and his leadership team have done yeomen’s work in explaining the steps taken thus far, where we stand now, and what we plan for the coming months. Since Dr. O’Brien became CEO in January 2009, Carson-Newman has experienced revenue increases –$6.2 million in 2010 and almost $3.6 million this year. We will continue to implement strategic initiatives for improvement of our bottom line. Our Board is confident that we have in place the right plan to continue recent increases in net assets.”

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