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Sale of Nicaraguan campus announced by Univ. of Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–Nicholas Healy is a name many Alabama Baptists have never heard, but without his persistence, a July 30 announcement of the sale of the Nicaraguan campus of the University of Mobile might never have happened.
Until a few weeks ago, Healy served as vice president of Franciscan University in Stubbenville, Ohio. He now is president of Ava Maria Institute in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Healy was the force behind Franciscan University’s interest in purchasing the Latin American Branch Campus of the University of Mobile. In May, however, when trustees of Franciscan University declined to make the deal, Healy started making calls. Those calls led him to multimillionaire Tom Monghans. Healy is now president of Monghans’ recently initiated Ava Maria Institute that announced July 30 it has agreed to purchase Mobile’s Latin American Branch Campus, which opened in the fall of 1995.
According to the announcement, the Nicaraguan campus will be operated during the 1999-2000 academic year by the University of Mobile, which is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention. However, the institute has agreed to underwrite the operating expenses of the year for up to $1 million. At the end of the academic year, Ava Maria Institute will purchase all University of Mobile assets at the campus and assume its operation.
“We are delighted,” University of Mobile President Mark Foley said. “This is an answer to prayer.” He said the agreement ensures the campus will continue to provide Christian higher education in Nicaragua. At the same time, the agreement makes it easier for the University of Mobile to exit the country.
In early 1998, Mobile trustees adopted three goals, Foley explained. The goals were to withdraw from Nicaragua by June 30, 2000, to find a successor institution to carry on operation of the campus, and to recover as much of the school’s investments as possible.
“Any one of the goals taken alone could have been accomplished with some degree of ease,” Foley said. “Bundled together, they became a God-size thing. Simply put, the Lord answered our prayers.”
Foley said the agreement also insures that Mobile will maintain its commitment to the Alabama Baptist State Convention not to spend money in Nicaragua that is not raised in Nicaragua or given for that purpose.
However, Foley declined to speculate how much the university will be able to recoup from selling its assets to Ava Maria Institute.
“Until we have hard numbers, there is no use talking about how much money we will get back,” Foley said. He added that every month since taking office in February 1998, the cumulative deficit caused by the Nicaraguan campus operation has been reduced slightly. He acknowledged that the school will not be able to recover the approximate $2 million it was attempting to return to the Mobile campus.
Foley said the sale of the assets also includes a faculty house that the university purchased back from a trustee. “The whole point of selling the assets was to provide Ava Maria everything they need to operate that campus,” he explained. “The faculty house is an essential part of that.”
The agreement also closes the door on threatened legal actions. Students and faculty at the campus threatened to sue the University of Mobile when they learned trustees were considering closing the school at the end of the 1998-99 school year. Trustees argued they could not afford to open the school for its final year without a successor institution in place.
“We were cognizant there might be legal action,” Foley said. However, he contended the “heaviest matter on my mind” was the welfare of the Nicaraguan faculty. “Now they will be able to support and care for their families because the campus will continue to operate,” he said.
One person currently teaching religion courses in Nicaragua is expected to return to the University of Mobile and continue responsibilities as an employee of the university. All other faculty and administrators are expected to remain in Nicaragua.
Foley said the agreement with Ava Maria Institute closes a painful chapter in the life of Alabama Baptists. Part of the pain was the realization that Mobile could not fulfill a worthy mission. He said it was “heartwarming” to see that mission preserved and carried on by a successor institution. “Under the circumstances,” Foley added, “I am pleased to find another Christian entity to step in and carry on.” He said he and Healy found Christian fellowship and prayed together for this accomplishment. Another upside to the agreement is that full attention can be devoted to the University of Mobile campus.
“In my 16 months, at least half of my attention has been devoted to Nicaragua in one aspect or another,” Foley said. “We have a master strategy planning effort under way. It is good that all of us can turn our full attention to dreaming about the future of this [the Mobile] campus.”
To help prepare for the transition of ownership and to oversee operation of the Nicaraguan campus, Foley has appointed Humberto Belli as vice president of Latin American affairs for the University of Mobile. Belli is a former faculty member at Franciscan University and a friend of Healy. He also formerly served as minister of education for Nicaragua.
“The bottom line is that we will offer classes in a normal mode of operation for the 1999-2000 academic year until June 30, 2000. Ava Maria Institute will begin operation July 1, 2000,” Foley said.

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  • Bob Terry