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Family questions Peace University's use of scholarship fund

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As an "avid supporter of women's colleges," George Ashford established a scholarship at the Peace College in the ‘50s. As an "avid supporter of women's colleges," George Ashford established a scholarship at the Peace College in the ‘50s.

A woman whose family donated thousands of dollars to William Peace University for a scholarship has been fighting for two years to get answers about how that money is being used.

As an "avid supporter of women's colleges," Linda Dark's father, George Ashford, established a scholarship at the school in the ‘50s. After Ashford died in 1996, his son Tom ran the scholarship until the family decided to let the school run it, which included a hefty endowment.

Now, Dark wants to know why there appears to be less cash in the fund than the family thought was in the endowment.

"All we're asking for is answers to very simple and fair questions," said Linda Dark. "As part of the Memo of Agreement, the base amount wasn't to be touched."

Dark said only the interest earned from the gift could be used to fund the scholarships. But when that Memo of Agreement was signed back in 1996 between the school and the Ashford family, the school left the amount of the family's gift blank on the Memo of Agreement form.

A short time later, the school issued a press release that was published in a number of periodicals stating that Peace College had been given $89,500 to establish the George T. Ashford Memorial Scholarship.

"The gift establishes the George T. Ashford Scholarship Fund as a permanent endowment at the College, recognizing Sarah McCormick, the wife of George T. Ashford, who attended Peace and his daughter, Linda, and his granddaughter, Kim, both of whom were graduates of the college," the press release read.

"The scholarships will be awarded annually to Peace students with preference given to applicants from Robeson County and the vicinity."

Dark said until the last two years, she was "completely satisfied" with the way the school handled things regarding the scholarship. However when the administration at Peace changed, she said "the amount of information that we were able to obtain changed dramatically."

Dark said her problems with the school began in 2010. That year, Peace decided not to send out annual reports because it claimed many of its endowments were under water. Dark said that refusal to provide information "prompted her to start asking questions."

"We discovered there is a $10,000 discrepancy between the original gift and the amount of the corpus today," Dark said.

What the family thought was an $89,500 base amount appeared to be $79,635, according to Peace University stewardship reports from 2011 and 2012 obtained by WNCN News.

"Why is there a discrepancy?," Dark asked.

The school said the right amount of money is in the account, and has always been $79,635. The university explained it by saying the press releases they originally sent out in 1996 were wrong.

"When the press release was given, there was a discrepancy between our audited financials on what was given to that account and what was reported to the media," claimed Julie Ricciardi, the school's vice president of engagement. "No money is missing."

If that is the answer, Dark wants to know why it took so long to get it.

Since 2010, Dark said she has called, written letters and sent emails to the school. She even had two meetings with Ricciardi seeking an explanation, but said none was forthcoming.

"While we get pleasant responses, they are lacking in substance. They do not give specifics," Dark said.

"This is not some emotional reaction to males being allowed to come to the college or anything like that," Dark said. "To us, this is business arrangement, and business isn't conducted that way."

Dark's questions about the base endowment of her father's scholarship aren't the only questions that were unanswered for two years.

"We want to know who is getting the scholarships. And do they meet the criteria spelled out in the memo of agreement?," she said.

The school said it can't talk about scholarship recipients but said it is meeting the wishes of the family.

"Sometimes students choose not to have their names disclosed, but we are also always meeting the intent," Ricciardi told WNCN.

The school stands by its records and maintains that it is forthcoming in its answers; but Dark is unconvinced, saying the school is unresponsive to its alumni.

"We should not have to beg and plead, as donors, to get specific information on our investment in the college," Dark said.

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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