Students protest closed-door meeting about Hiwassee College closure

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Students and alumni showed up to protest a closed-door meeting Friday morning at Hiwassee College, a week after the school announced it would close its doors for good at the end of the semester.

The protest was held outside the Barker Learning Center where a meeting was held with college leadership and faculty.

“We’ve all been dying to talk to the board and get answers that make sense,” said senior Ali Moore.

Lawrence Johnson who graduated from Hiwassee College in 1956 says he found out about the closure in the newspaper.

“This is a pitiful way for these students to learn about they’re losing their college,” he said.

Students want answers. They say they’re confused about why their college is closing and feel like they’re being left in the dark, especially since they weren’t allowed in the meeting.

Doors were locked all morning, but they eventually got inside the BLC and chanted, “Tell us more.” Teachers came out of the meeting to calm the crowd.

At once point, sheriff’s deputies brought in a K9 officer, which made things inside very tense.

“It was really aggressive for us to be students and us being in our own building here. We were protesting a little bit but for them to recognize they were outnumbered and then having to bring a dog in to control this. Nobody here’s violent. We’re not acting out. All we want is answers. If they would just come out and tell us what’s going on, there wouldn’t be any need for all this,” said senior Aldo Frias.

Everyone, including the media, was escorted outside the building.

“It really upsets me that we’re not allowed in the school right now because this is our school. This school would not be a school without us students who go here,” said sophomore Rachel Fleenor. “We not only have a right to know what’s going on because we pay tuition but without us, the school wouldn’t be here. We make up the school. I just feel like we have the right to know and I feel like we have just as much of a right to know as any of the faculty and staff do. It really breaks my heart that they pushed us to the side and that our concerns don’t really matter to them right now.”

As of noon Friday, students were set up outside the building, waiting to confront Hiwassee College leadership and board of trustee members after they left the meeting.

“This wasn’t something they could predict? Because none of us had any idea. There were no warning signs,” said Moore.

Faculty inside the meeting say numbers didn’t add up and many of their questions went unanswered.

“There were conversations about how long we would be paid. The faculty and staff would be paid, we were told, through April and possibly May 10. Possibly doesn’t pay the bills of course,” said Shane Gardner, head baseball coach.

“I agree with the students, it’s been like a secret or something that they’ve been trying to hide,” said Johnson.

During the afternoon, Hiwassee College President Dr. Robin Tricoli stepped outside briefly telling students there would be a similar meeting for students and their parents on Friday, April 12. She said there would also be a meeting for alumni on April 27.

“Wherever our students transfer to, those schools are getting some excellent students and some excellent people,” said Gardner.

“Just knowing that I was leaving was going to hurt anyway but now realizing that there’s not going to be anything to come back to, I think that’s what hurts,” added Moore.

Dr. Tricoli says the school has not had any funds to misappropriate. All revenue was spent for its intended purpose. In a statement to WATE, Dr. Tricoli says, “The decision to close was not the result of one single issue, nor one group, or one individual’s fault. It was an accumulation of years of not enough donor support, too many facilities issues and the lack of enrollment to sustain our mission.”

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