A group of Shaw University alumni is suing two trustees, alleging mismanagement and conflict of interest.
Shaw alumnus and attorney Christopher Young filed the lawsuit in North Carolina's Eastern District Court against Board Chairman Joseph Bell, Jr. and immediate past chairman Willie Gary.
The Historically Black University has struggled financially in recent years, and has been criticized for leadership instability. After a series of protests and calls to the university, Young said concerned alumni see a lawsuit as the only way to spark change.
"For one, they would like to see the board overhauled. It's just never a good situation when you have two people who have been in charge of a school for 20 to 25 years."
The lawsuit claims businesses run by Bell and Gary's relatives received contracts from the university. It also claims Trustees' scholarships have gone disproportionately to students from Bell's hometown of Savannah, GA. Shaw University has had five presidents in the past decade, with four on the payroll in 2014.
"Looking at the 1990s, you can see a school in financial crisis was paying four presidents at one time due to bad hiring, bad recommendations, bad contracts," Young said. "It's just things going on that a lot of the alumni don't know about and they should know about."
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit call themselves Shaw Alumni and Friends, which is not affiliated with Shaw University National Alumni Association.
But Shaw's Raleigh-Wake Alumni Chapter President Julius Cromwell said charges in the suit echo concerns throughout the alumni community. Cromwell said he is hopeful Shaw's new President Tashni Dubroy will address alumni concerns.
"I hope that our new administration will be able to address this issue because it does affect not only recruiting, but it does affect student morale and it does affect how alumni are going to look at the university going forward," Cromwell said.
In a statement, President Dubroy pointed out that Shaw University was not named in the lawsuit. She wrote that Shaw University is financially stable. Last year's most recent tax return indicates net assets of more than$36 million. Dubroy says the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaffirmed Shaw’s accreditation in 2013 and affirmed the university’s financial and physical resources.
Dubroy added that neither the business run by Bell or Gary's relatives named in the suit currently hold a contract with Shaw University.
Joseph Bell and Willie Gary did not respond to requests for comment.