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Lawsuit accuses NCCU chancellor and two BOG members of misconduct


Students at N.C. Central University, one of UNC system's five HBCUs. Photo courtesy of Keisha Williams. 

Former N.C. Central University vice chancellor for administration and finance, Benjamin Durant, filed a lawsuit against NCCU Chancellor Johnson Akinleye, who was installed in his position April 19.

Just two days before the installation ceremony, Durant filed the suit alleging he was wrongfully terminated by Akinleye and seeking damages.

Durant was employed at NCCU as of October 2014 and terminated from his position Jan. 31.

Durant was told he was terminated because of a change in the strategic direction of the division and administration of finance, Durant’s attorney Katie Abernethy said.

Durant alleged in the lawsuit that his termination was actually due to his objection to the misappropriation of state funds that was used to purchase Akinleye a luxury SUV. He also claims that it was due to his reporting the misconduct of Akinleye and two members of the UNC Board of Governors in respect to a multimillion dollar development contract for the school.

The lawsuit is filed against Akinleye in both his professional and personal capacity as well as against NCCU.

Durant is now seeking compensation for his losses under the North Carolina Whistleblower Act and common law as well as full reinstatement and back pay.

According to the lawsuit, Akinleye requested the school give him a SUV with Bluetooth technology a few weeks after his appointment in June 2017. He was given a new Nissan Pathfinder, leased from the State Motor Pool.

In October, he requested the car be replaced with a GMC Yukon Denali with features like black exterior, leather interior and Bluetooth technology.

On Dec. 13, 2017, the N.C. Department of Administration sent a letter to Akinleye stating the Denali was a luxury vehicle and would not be purchased or assigned for his use. NCCU administration recommended the SUV be financed by the NCCU Foundation, but it was ultimately paid for with state funds.

While Durant was on vacation, NCCU used the General Fund to purchase the Denali for $69,403.91 on Dec. 20.

According to the lawsuit, Durant repeatedly told Akinleye not to use state funds. When Durant would not drop the issue, Akinleye became enraged.

“In his anger, Chancellor Akinleye yelled at Mr. Durant and called Mr. Durant 'stupid' and 'clueless,'” the lawsuit said.

It also said that at this same meeting, Durant allegedly got up to leave the conversation and heard Akinleye yell, “You’re gone!”

The meeting took place Jan. 29, and Durant was terminated Jan. 31.

The GMC Yukon Denali was sold at auction in February for $57,105, The Herald-Sun reported.

The second reason for Durant’s termination, the lawsuit said, was Durant’s objection to the conduct of Akinleye and BOG members Darrell Allison and Harry Smith. It alleges that the three attempted to steer a $90 to $120 million public-private partnership contract, or P3 contract, which would serve to develop new on-campus student housing.

Requests for interviews with Allison and Smith went unanswered.

The lawsuit alleges Akinleye held meetings concerning the P3, several including Allison and Smith. According to the lawsuit, Allison suggested in an October meeting that the school work with private developer Preiss Company.

Durant allegedly objected to this idea on the grounds that the school was obligated by law to run a fair selection process called a Request For Qualifications.

Allison is quoted in the lawsuit as saying, “In the private sector, we go through those processes too, but we already know the developer we are going to pick up front.”

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At one point, Smith suggested Durant should disengage from the P3 selection process, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, Durant reported this information to a member of the NCCU Board of Trustees but was terminated shortly after.

NCCU denied the allegations in a statement sent by NCCU spokesperson Ayana Hernandez on April 19.

“(NCCU) has acted in accordance to its policies and procedures," the statement said. "The allegations made will be vigorously challenged and defended in the court of law."

NCCU said the RFQ was officially issued Feb. 2. Following the RFQ, the school issued a Request For Proposal to which the Preiss Company was not invited to submit a response. This RFP process is still ongoing.

Now that the case has been filed and the defendant served, the defendants have 30 days from service to answer or otherwise plead in response to the complaint, Abernethy said.