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Bethune-Cookman President, Dogged by Money Woes, DeVos Controversy, Announces Early Retirement

Edison Jackson received intense backlash after inviting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speak at the school’s 2017 commencement. (Photo by John Raoux/AP Images).

The president of Bethune-Cookman University has resigned, ending his contract nearly a year early amid a series of controversies involving school finances.

President Edison O. Jackson told the university’s board of trustees of his plans to retire earlier this week, after which board members approved his early retirement, B-CU board chairman Joe Petrock announced Tuesday, July 11. Jackson’s contract was set to expire next June.

Discussions regarding Jackson’s exact retirement date are still underway, as are plans to find someone to fill in as interim president, local station WESH 2 reported.

Jackson’s sudden departure follows a series of reports by The Daytona Beach News-Journal investigating B-CU’s troubling finances. The stories revealed increased operating losses due to spending and mounting debt from the financing of the school’s newest dorm, which is slated to cost the school over $306 million over the next 40 years.

Alumni and former trustees have voiced concerns about the dorm’s cost, as it was initially expected to cost just $72.1 million but has amounted to almost $85 million, according to the newspaper.

“We’ve had some financial challenges that we’re working through, and we’ve had some great progress with that,” Petrock said.

Jackson also sparked national controversy when he invited controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to deliver the school’s commencement speech in May. The decision left many students and alumni livid, especially after DeVos described historically Black colleges and universities as “pioneers” of school choice. Her problematic remark ignored the fact that state-sanctioned segregation barred Black students from attending white colleges, thus creating a need for HBCUs.

DeVos’ appearance spurred intense protests, as hundreds of students stood and turned their backs as she delivered her address.

Jackson was appointed to serve as B-CU’s sixth president in 2013. He hasn’t yet commented on his early retirement.

Officials at Bethune-Cookman also didn’t respond to request for comment.

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