Financial Woes Continue at Fisk University

Hazel O’Leary, president of Fisk University, the historically black educational institution in Nashville, Tennessee, disclosed that twice during the past four years the university has dipped into its endowment to cover operating shortfalls. The fund did not lose any value because paintings owned by the university were transferred to the endowment. At the current time, the Fisk endowment of $15.2 million includes artwork that is valued at $7.7 million. The university’s cash and investment portfolios have dropped from $13.5 million to $7.1 million since 2001.

The transfer of artwork to the endowment and the siphoning off of cash was included in footnotes to the college’s financial statements but were not widely publicized. The transfer has meant that the university has seen a sharp drop-off in the interest it earns from the cash portion of its endowment fund. The university had a $600,000 operating deficit during the past academic year.

Fisk University owns artwork that has an appraised value of more than $31 million. But much of the artwork was donated to the university with the stipulation that it could not be sold. Fisk is currently engaged in litigation that seeks to overturn this stipulation and give the university the right to sell the artwork. In explaining her decision to go to court, O’Leary said, “Our job is developing and educating students. It is not having museums.”