Michael Sorrell Revived Paul Quinn College (and Almost Died Doing It)

Dallas' only historically black college was on the brink of collapse. Now the students are protesters, the football field is a farm and the president is the star.

He walked to the student union. The hallways needed sweeping, and the walls were painted a dark, dirty yellow. In the fitness center, all the bars were bent. He tried to grab lunch in the cafeteria, but the food was repulsive. Students sat on folded, metal chairs and huddled over flimsy card tables to eat.

He made his way back to his office. His phone didn't have call-waiting.

Seriously? he thought. I don't remember the last time I didn't have call-waiting.

He'd bounced around law firms all over Dallas in the 13 years since finishing law school. He'd worked in the White House, on different leadership committees across Dallas, on the Olympic bid committee. Suddenly none of that meant anything.

He called the CFO into his office. He wanted to discuss the year's budget.

"We don't have a budget," the CFO told him.

"It's March. How can you not have a budget?"

He found a copy of the school's course catalog. It listed classes that were no longer offered at Paul Quinn, and some that had never been offered. He met with teachers, who told him they were afraid to go to the bathroom, fearing their purses and desks would get ransacked by students. (It was common at the time for people who didn't attend the college to walk freely around campus.)

Sorrell thought back to Oberlin, where he once had dinner with Johnetta Cole, the president at Spelman College, an all-female HBCU in Atlanta. Ever since then he'd toyed with the idea of being a black-college president, a rainmaker for young black people. Maybe when he was in his 60s, old and fat and not much use to anyone.

But not now, not when he was about to get the Grizzlies. He and some business partners had placed a bid on Memphis' NBA team. News reports characterized Sorrell as the attorney for the group's leader, but he says he was going to be president and rebuild the franchise. He could close his eyes and imagine the apartment where he would live, in a high-rise overlooking the Mississippi.

This was just 90 days of clean-up. Sorrell had a reputation as a fixer. His last position had literally been Chief Problem Solver for a sports management firm called Victor Credo. That's why the chairman of the college's board, AME Bishop Gregory Ingram, had made him the 34th president of the school — the fifth since 2001.

Before he went home that night, Sorrell was handed a set of keys. There weren't electronic locks, so he had to close and secure the door to the building with a padlock, wrapping the links of a heavy chain around the entrance's handles. It was laughable. And yet.


Nowadays, there are no strangers milling about Paul Quinn. This is no longer a school you can just visit on a whim.

To get onto campus you have to drive down Simpson Stuart Road like Sorrell did, and through a 10-foot electronic gate that shuts the school off from the city. It's sometimes operated by one security guard, but usually two, both of whom wear skullcaps and heavy jackets because they have to keep walking outside to head off approaching cars. No one gets in without an appointment, and no one roams untethered.

If a visitor does arrive with an appointment, the nice lady guard calls up to the administration building. She opens the gate, gets in her security sedan and motions for the visitor to follow. At the administration building, she gets out and holds the door, and they walk in together, up the closest flight of stairs, down a couple of hallways with black tile and purple and gold trim. There's not a single student in sight.

After 15 minutes or so, Sorrell emerges.

"Hey, man, how you doing?"

And it's cliché, but he swaggers, with his shoulders kind of bent forward and rolling. He sees an extended hand and grabs it, bends down and pulls in for a hug that's smothering, imposing. And damned if he isn't a good hugger.

His office is cavernous, with plaques, pictures and newspaper articles marking past successes. A gavel balances on a cinder block on the edge of his desk, front and center. There are photos, faced away from him and toward his audience, photos of him, of him with his wife, of him with his wife and President Barack Obama. The desk is dwarfed by his high-backed burgundy leather chair, which looks like it was imported straight from a courthouse. It's tall, but he's tall.

He leans all the way back and speaks barely above a whisper. He looks through his glasses and down the bridge of his nose and finishes almost every sentence with "Right?" He talks about his days playing basketball, and offhandedly reveals that he was one of the best players of all time at his college. He could've been even better if he hadn't gone to Oberlin.

"I didn't look at it and say, 'I'm going to be the best basketball player I can become.'" He pauses. "I looked at it and said, 'That's the best man I can become.'"

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23 comments
getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

Tbrown .. those are the right answers!  We haven't heard the answers to those questions in years!


Tbrown
Tbrown

Paul Quinn College Fall semester 2011, they had over 200 students. Now, the Spring 2012 semester, they are less 50 students. What is the real problem at the institution? Why are students leaving? This is every semester, where is the retention rate? Sorrell talks about everything else to keep the focus off of the real problems....

Guest
Guest

This article is ridiculous....I wish the world knew what Michael Sorrell was really doing. He doesn't care about PAul Quinn, HBCU's, Southern Dallas, PQC's Students or anything else of the matter. He cares about hisself and has been committed to finding another job for the last 6 months and it seems that every other college can see through the mirror and know he if full of bullshit!!!! The only problem now is that there are still a few folks in dallas, texas who are blindslided and hopefully one day they will finally wake up. Wake up get in and save their school because its going to down.

catbird
catbird

The guy seems nice but a "Black College" in south Dallas is nothing if not redundent. As I recall there is a brand new UNT campus within walking distance of PQ who also has a black guy as president...if that means anything.

Guest
Guest

With all that being said, how has the school progressed. Ok, so you knocked down some old buildings and planted a few flowers. At the end of the day, the school is in worse shape than it has ever been. You people are being hoodwinked. It's a university. How has the school progressed in fulfilling its mission statement? Has enrollment increased? Are the 10 students that graduate each year finding employment? What does tearing down abandoned buildings and turning a football field into a farm has to do with being a successful HBCU? I understand that he is known as a cleanup man, but that hardly has to be what they intended him to do when he was put in this position. The school is stilll failing. The school is failing the students. Real issues are not being addressed and the changes that are most needed are not happening. Look at the other HBCUs. I am so sick of hearing about these same "achievements" in every article I read about concerning Paul Quinn. When will something new and relevant happen. What is Paul Quinn doing for the residents of South Dallas? I keep hearing about a grocery store, but has yet to see it. That farm is not for the benefit of South Dallas residents either. How many South Dallas residents do you know that are dying to buy kale, spinach, and arugula? This article is BS and nothing more. How many students from South Dallas attend or are accepted into Paul Quinn? Foolishness!

RC
RC

Brilliance and leadership with a mission in South Dallas. ALL of Dallas needs more people like Michael Sorrell..

Church Lady
Church Lady

"to whom much is given much is required"Intellect,Integrity,Innovation can be seenin the leadership of Paul Quinn.

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

I've had the honor of observing President Sorrell in action several times, at City Hall, leading a student march accross a Trinity River bridge into downtown, and again at Paul Quinn college. He is saying the right things, at the right times, to the right people. We need leaders like this!

furniture stores Corpus Christ
furniture stores Corpus Christ

In Malaga city we find several shopping centers. Very near the train station is located in the Larios Shopping Centre. This mall is located in one of the best areas of Malaga, next to Avenida de Andalucia, in heart of the city, which facilitates access to it from the nearby towns.

Gary Lawson
Gary Lawson

I have had the distinct honor to have met President Sorrell and to have been at City Hall a few months ago when too few of us made the effort to celebrate what Paul Quinn College and its students are beginning to demonstrate right here in the heart of Dallas. President Sorrell is the man for this job and he is proving that he has the mind and the metal for this task.

The Mayor wants to see Dallas invest in the Southern Sector of Dallas, well Sorrell, Paul Quinn College and its students and faculty are demonstrating why such investment makes great sense. I commend and thank you Michael Sorrell for your servant leadership. thank you,Gary

trudat
trudat

This is a good article. It's one of the few fairly positive articles that I have seen printed by this paper about a Black man.

SALES GUY
SALES GUY

Good to know Mike's story...know him [meet talked a few times] and meet him thru my Fraternity Brothers...didn't know he almost died...Great story...need more people who care...really care....

Edgar
Edgar

Great article. Sounds like Sorrell is doing a good job administering some hard medicine.

Aj_webstar
Aj_webstar

Sorrell is a trooper and an innovator i commend him on all his efforts

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

News about Dallas is almost relentlessly depressing or outrageous.

Then you read an article like this, and think maybe, just maybe, there's hope for us.

Snapfish Coupons
Snapfish Coupons

I like Juliet Isabelle and Rosalind Elisabeth for Lily's twins and Rivers Michael and Raine Anthony for Daisy's twins.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Is Sorrell getting his students to register to vote, especially those living on campus? Considering how few votes it takes to win a city council election the students could become a swing constituency for their district. Even the neighboring districts if they ran a registration/get out the vote campaign. That might stop up flow control.

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Guest So true.. Michael has been looking for longer than that but apparently other people can see through his bull!  Michael is all about hisself, blessed with the gift of gab, height and ugly face also coupled with arrogance of a horrible man.   Dallas will get it together we have to spread the real truth about him. 

Nupe357
Nupe357

No, it doesn't mean anything

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Guest Pure foolishness exactly! No south dallas students are excepted. The admission policy is a joke... Sorrell goes through the pics and merely make jokes of how the kids look and make fun of their transcripts.  The answer to all your questions are no, none and not going to be any changes.  The school will close if things do not change. 

http://www.facebook.com/getsorrell.away


getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Gary Lawson Michael is a politician! That's all and failed lawyer... nothing else.

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Aj_webstar wow coming from you.. very surprising. 

 
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