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Mobile trustees vote to withdraw from Nicaragua branch campus

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–The University of Mobile board of trustees voted April 28 to begin a process to withdraw from its five-year-old Latin American branch campus in San Marcos, Nicaragua.
Board officials said the action was taken to better focus on the university’s mission and the goals of new UM President Mark Foley. The Baptist-related school has approximately 2,000 students at its 35-year-old Mobile campus.
According to school officials, trustees expressed a desire that accredited higher education continue to be available in Nicaragua and the university would aggressively explore options as part of the withdrawal to preserve the continuation of accredited higher education in Nicaragua. Foley said the separation will be completed no later than June 30, 2000.
“Since 1993, the University of Mobile and the leadership of Nicaragua have worked together to improve educational opportunities for hundreds of young men and women in Nicaragua and throughout Latin America,” Foley said in a news release. “Great strides have been made during these years in education, economics and democracy. We are truly honored to have been a part of Nicaragua’s progress. We formally express our desire that accredited higher education continue to be available in Nicaragua, and we plan to work closely with Nicaragua’s leadership to explore various avenues which may be available to them.
“However, it is now time for the University of Mobile to refocus on the main Mobile campus and our primary mission,” said Foley, who was unanimously elected to the university’s presidency Feb. 13 and assumed office March 2.
Also during the regular spring meeting, Gary Enfinger, pastor of Thomasville Baptist Church in Thomasville, Ala., was unanimously elected chairman of the board, effective July 1. He succeeds Robert H. Maxwell of Atmore, Ala., who chose not to be nominated again as he plans to retire during this year. Maxwell served as chairman for the past three years.
Foley said the board took the action regarding the branch campus after an extensive review of its fiscal viability.
“As I stated to the board in February, any operation related to the University of Mobile under my administration will operate in the black or it will not operate,” Foley said.
Foley said the board’s action serves to strengthen the university by focusing attention and financial resources on the main Mobile campus.
“A Christian university can change the world through men and women who are prepared academically, developed spiritually, equipped technologically and responsible socially,” Foley said. “That is my vision for the University of Mobile, and we must focus all our attention and energies on achieving that goal.”
Foley, 47, formerly executive vice president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, succeeded Michael Magnoli, whose 13-year presidency of the university was ended by the 46-member trustee body May 13 of last year.
The departure of Magnoli, who had two years remaining in his contract, was hastened by a debt crisis revealed in March 1997 of more than $3.6 million.
The branch campus Nicaragua sparked controversy within the Alabama convention over funding procedures. In 1994, messengers to the annual Alabama Baptist state convention affirmed a convention-university agreement limiting financial support of the university’s Latin American Branch Campus in Nicaragua to gifts specifically generated for that campus and funds generated from that campus. Another part of the agreement required trustees to return to the Mobile campus about $2.3 million used to initiate the branch campus in 1993. Trustees later acknowledged, however, Mobile investments in Nicaragua had grown by $1 million to more than $3.3 million.
Currently, the university is working with the Alabama convention in a plan for recovering all convention funds used for the Nicaragua campus. Last year, the convention gave the university more than $2 million of its $32 million Cooperative Program budget.
Magnoli, 50 at the time of his dismissal, was a member of the university’s first graduating class in 1967 who joined the staff four years later as director of development and in 1991 was named vice president for development. He assumed the presidency in 1984 after the retirement of the university’s founding president and current chancellor, William Weaver Jr.
Foley, in an interview with the Mobile Register published Feb. 13, Foley said he had reviewed the financial problems the university has faced at both its main campus in Mobile and branch campus in Nicaragua.
Of the Nicaragua campus, he stated, “If the mission of a Christian university is indeed to change the world,” then it would have a future under the Baptist university. “If you can do Christian higher education … there, then you have the opportunity literally to help change a nation over the course of about 20 years. I’m not really talking in evangelical terms as much as I am talking in value-centered terms. That possibility is very exciting to me,” he said.
However, Foley said, “… that must be qualified by a greater principle, that is, financial integrity. Any operation related to the University of Mobile under my administration will operate in the black or it will not operate.”
Of the university’s relationship with the Alabama convention, he acknowledged in the newspaper interview, “…there’s a lot of relationship-building that’s needed in that area. … We have to be open with the Alabama Baptist State Convention. What’s happened in the past breeds a lot of ill will, mistrust and hurt. There is no doubt that there’s a great deal of healing that needs to be done. I intend to win state Baptists’ support for the University of Mobile as a whole through demonstrations of financial integrity.”