College system head concerned about MMI

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MARION&8212;Alabama College System Interim Chancellor Dr. Thomas Corts is afraid he&8217;s been portrayed as someone who&8217;s &8220;anti-Marion Military Institute.&8221;

In a recent Birmingham News report, Corts said the state&8217;s recent takeover of the nation&8217;s oldest military junior college due to bankruptcy woes raises a few valid concerns.

Corts describes MMI&8217;s incorporation into the state&8217;s two-year college system as an &8220;unusual arrangement,&8221; saying the takeover was signed into law without any budget provided.

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Acquiring $3 million thus far, MMI has requested an additional $10 million to cover a backlog of repairs and daily operations this year and Corts supposes the monetary requests will increase each year thereafter. Corts said MMI&8217;s $10 million request places the school among institutions that are enrolling several thousand students. MMI has just over 200 students. Corts is uncertain whether the system can find the additional $10 million, &8220;but that&8217;s how much we&8217;re seeking.&8221;

To add to Corts&8217; apprehension, state officials have not yet signed the deeds to obtain MMI &8220;so we don&8217;t have the title to the property,&8221; Corts said.

While Alabama law states MMI is under the supervision of the state, Corts questions if the state actually has complete control over the 164-year-old school, citing MMI&8217;s board of trustees oversees a $3 million endowment and all fundraising activities.

Taylor D. Wilkins Jr., the head of MMI&8217;s board of trustees, said the state has not given up any of its authority at all, citing the Alabama State Board of Education will gain $40 million worth of assets and MMI&8217;s 180-acre site.

A Bay Minette lawyer, Wilkins said the trustee board&8217;s endowment totals only $1 million, which is derived from private contributors and used to fund scholarships.

Wilkins admits he didn&8217;t want to give up control of MMI at first, &8220;but in the final analysis we felt like Marion will complement the junior college system and help it be more diverse.&8221;

Wilkins said a MMI alumni residing in Montgomery brought state takeover idea to former Alabama College System Chancellor Roy Johnson a few months ago. Johnson then called MMI trustee Charles Holmes &8220;and that&8217;s how it was all brought up to begin with.&8221;

On March 2, 2006, the Alabama legislature approved the state takeover, which was supported by State Senators Jim Preuitt, Bobby Singleton, Lowell Ray Barron and Hank Sanders.

Corts also

presented the idea of making MMI a branch of an existing two-year college in the Birmingham News report. But according to the law, &8220;Should the Alabama State Board of Education decide to discontinue the institute as a military educational college, all lands, facilities and assets shall revert to the board of trustees.&8221;

Wilkins added the state takeover would ultimately boost MMI&8217;s student enrollment and attract more students to Perry County as a public military school.

Sen. Sanders, D-Selma, agrees with Wilkins, saying the state takeover was approved by a &8220;broad consensus.&8221;