Bishop State Controversy (2007)

In 2007, Mobile's Bishop State Community College was scrutinized by the state's two-year college system, state auditors, the U.S. Department of Education, the FBI and the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office, which has charged 27 people with stealing more than $200,000 most of it financial aid. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting organization subsequently placed Bishop State on probation.

Three Bishop State employees and three people with family connections to those employees were charged stealing more than $75,000 in financial aid.

The U.S. Department of Education put the 4,100-student college on “heightened
cash monitoring” and demanded the return of $150,000 in federal aid. An outside firm was hired to overhaul the college’s financial aid office.

An inquiry into the school by Alabama’s two-year college system found violations of federal and state financial aid policies, with aid going to ineligible students and some recipients getting excess money. The inquiry also raised questions about academics at Bishop State, where some students were said to have received high grades and credit for little or no time on class work.

One case was that of Pearlie Mae French, the 77-year-old, one-legged, multi-sport athlete. Bishop State records show that Ms. French was enrolled at various times from fall 2004 to the spring 2006 semester, and that she received financial aid. She was enrolled in varsity basketball, baseball and softball in the spring of 2006. This was news to her son, Anthony French Sr., who is certain that: a) his mother had one leg amputated because of diabetes, b) she died in March 2006 at the age of 77 and c) she never went to college.

In February 2007, the Press-Register reported that food service teacher, Henry Douglas enrolled as a student in at least seven classes he taught, receiving six grades of A and one B for those courses. Kennedy’s successor as president, James Lowe, fired Douglas but an artibtrator ruled he must be returned to his job with back-pay since he had already received a letter of reprimand from Bishop State for enrolling in the classes, thus the school’s termination was an additional punishment for the same situation and therefore unfair.

The Bishop State Community College Foundation, which has been criticized in multiple two-year system reports and investigated by law enforcement, was shut down.

A report on Bishop State by the two-year system said then-college President Yvonne Kennedy operated the foundation under her “personal direction,” against system officials’ advice. The report also said the foundation maintained no accounting records, other than a checkbook, and was never audited.

The Mobile County District Attorney's office investigated how the foundation used a $94,000 legislative grant it received in 2003 from Kennedy, who represents parts of Mobile in the state House of Representatives.

Yvonne Kennedy retired as President in 2007. She will become “president emeritus,” a non-paid position. Two-year college chancellor Bradley Byrne said that Kennedy requested the title. At retirement, Kennedy was to collect a lump sum of about $530,000 accumulated through the state’s deferred retirement option program and approximately $7,600 in monthly pension.