Bacone College to resume classes Aug. 15 after rumored closure
Bacone College, located in Muskogee, was expected to begin fall classes on Aug. 15. In May, rumors of closure circulated after outgoing the president, Frank Willis, made the announcement via Facebook days before the May 12 commencement ceremonies. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Dr. Ferlin Clark
MUSKOGEE – Bacone College was set to resume classes for the fall semester on Aug. 15 after rumors circulated in May that the school would temporarily suspend operation.
Navajo citizen and new Bacone College President Dr. Ferlin Clark was tasked with keeping the college from closure by working with the Muskogee community and Oklahoma tribes.
“I was going out and about meeting with the tribes in terms of reconnecting with them between that time and when they officially installed me the day of graduation (May 12). That afternoon, the president and his administration started making these announcements to the faculty, to the staff, to the students,” Clark said.
Through the summer Bacone remained open but only offered online classes, Temporary Assistance for Need Families GED classes and worked to bring back faculty, staff and students for the fall semester.
He said the closure announcement harmed the college in more ways than one, and he and the staff went through a process of identifying “breakages” and how to mend them. He said a main breakage was financial loss in athletic scholarships.
“We had more athletic programs than academic programs and that created a lot of issues for the college. So right now we’re right-sizing that and we’ve never really closed. So that misguided and unclear definition of where Bacone really was created a lot of issues for us,” he said.
He said he and the staff took it upon themselves to “make it through” by anticipating funds, getting loans, going to churches and making appeals to community members.
“What that supposed closure did, a lot of folks pulled back in terms of financial support for Bacone. It created a lot of impactful situations for us,” Clark said.
Now financial support is coming in from the surrounding community. Clark said a local businessman made an offer to purchase the Bacone Student Life Center, which sits west of the main campus, for $3.2 million. Another offer of $600,000 was made to purchase the Bacone Inn that is also near campus. Both offers are in the process of a purchasing agreement.
He said tribes have not yet helped out financially but are supporting Bacone’s efforts to get back on its feet before investing.
Clark said he’s also working to bring back more staff and faculty such as a new Human Resources director, Student Services director and others for recruitment, admissions, registration and maintenance and housing to help get the dorms ready.
“We had to really be cognizant of our budget and what our budget can meet as far as covering our basic payroll operations. We basically have a bare bones budget just for us to get through,” Clark said.
Jan Peppler, Bacone Development vice president, said only a core group of staff and faculty is needed due to cuts in certain degree and athletic programs.
“In terms of our degree programs, we just concentrated things. We only cut out things like recreation management, sports management. But we are still really strong in American Indian Studies. And we’re still strong in criminal justice, which is heavy in tribal law. We have a strong business degree program. Those are both offered as an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, and liberal arts, education and Christian ministry. We just had to narrow it down a little bit more,” she said.
Cuts to athletic programs include rodeo, cheerleading and dance, men and women’s wrestling, and football. Bacone officials said they plan to continue with men and women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, cross-country and track and men and women’s soccer.
Peppler said around 230 students are enrolled with the expectation of 400 students to be enrolled at the end of August after add/drop counts.
“We’re redefining our vision, our plan for the next five to 10 years, and revisioning because we need to change, provide some new ways of doing things but keep the old traditional courses that we’ve been offering. So we’re kind of realigning where we need to go in the next five to 10 years. We’re kind of an interesting, good, sad, happy, resilient story,” Clark said.