Martin University rocked by accusations, anger
It looked like something out of the 1960s — students with placards and signs marching outside university offices and demanding, “Out with the president, out with the president.”
Motorists in passing cars honked their horns in support of the students.
But it was not 1969. It was just this week at Martin University in Indianapolis.
In a series of demonstrations across the street from the school, dozens of students, alumni and a sprinkling of current and former teachers were demanding the dismissal of school President Algeania Freeman.
“This school was established to help people like us. It was a working person’s school,” said Martin alum Mark Hostetler, a law enforcement officer. A holstered gun was visible on his hip as he joined in the protest. “But it appears this new management is not accessible to the people.”
Many protesters, such as organizer Maria Aytes, said the problems started immediately after the university hired Freeman to replace the retiring Rev. Fr. Boniface Hardin, a revered Catholic priest who founded the school in 1977. The school’s goal was to serve low-income, minority and working adult learners.
And, according to the school’s Web site, “Martin University’s original mission ... has not changed.”
But the demonstrators say since Freeman was hired, professors have been intimidated and fired, students have been harassed to keep silent and a petition drive was started by the school seeking a $5,000 a year increase in tuition.
Tuition currently is around $14,000 a year for a full-time student. If ultimately approved, the increase would go into effect in January.
“This is just craziness,” said Aytes, a 54-year-old widow in her last semester of seeking a degree in “humane exchange,” which prepares students for contemporary work in human services. Her stated concerns included the treatment of students and staff; the firing of teachers, including some in the middle of the semester; possible cronyism between the board of trustees and Freeman; the tuition increase; and whether the school was moving away from its original mission to benefit minorities and the poor.
“The atmosphere is not caring and loving as it used to be,” said one student who is in his last year of school and didn’t want to be identified, fearing reprisals. “And the president is not answering questions.”
Police were stationed outside and inside the university building during one protest and would not allow reporters in. University officials could not be reached for comment and calls to the university were also unanswered.
In a printed student bulletin dated Oct. 20, the university admitted to a budget deficit of $2.6 million, which “has a major affect on the institution’s accreditation.”
“Martin University has been classified as fiscally fragile,” the update said. “Therefore, many cuts (including personnel) have and will have to be made to maintain a balanced budget.”
Martin was found not in compliance last year in three of five accreditation standards and will receive site visits in 2010 and 2013, according to the update. But, “Martin University is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.”
One protester was alum Clete Ladd, a principal at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, which is a charter school. Ladd’s portrait also appears on Martin’s Web site and he is listed as a Martin success story.
“All we want is answers,” he said.