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.

"You said that at 18?"

"I was 17."

When he took over Paul Quinn, Sorrell says, the school had 30 days of cash left. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was preparing to put the school on probation that summer. (He'd have to sue SACS to keep the school from closing.)

Student Ronisha Isham was on the receiving end of Sorrell's generosity; Jessika Lara graduated in December 2010 and now works as a student recruiter.
Danny Fulgencio
Student Ronisha Isham was on the receiving end of Sorrell's generosity; Jessika Lara graduated in December 2010 and now works as a student recruiter.
In 2010, Paul Quinn partnered with PepsiCo to dig up its football field and turn it into an urban farm for South Dallas; Sorrell eventually wants to open a grocery store.
Danny Fulgencio
In 2010, Paul Quinn partnered with PepsiCo to dig up its football field and turn it into an urban farm for South Dallas; Sorrell eventually wants to open a grocery store.

Enrollment had fallen below 600, and in Sorrell's first week on campus, it was about to fall further. There'd been a fight at school, and 11 students were suspended. They came before Sorrell, in this very office, to make their cases for staying. It was a chance to keep enrollment steady while he righted the ship.

"Listen," he recalls telling them. "Let me apologize to you. If you have been led to believe that you are what a college junior should look like, you have been deceived."

The boys showed up late to the meetings, Sorrell says. Most were wearing wrinkled clothes, like they'd just gotten out of bed. Some didn't bother to shower or comb their hair. The appeals documents themselves were horrific, full of bad grammar and misspelled words.

"And while I didn't know you, you were at my institution and I accept responsibility for that. But you are not what this institution is going to produce."

He kicked them all out.

Summer approached. His 90 days were winding down. Sorrell says he was ready to get back to the Grizzlies, but in the meantime he attended Friendship West Baptist Church. The pastor there, Freddie Haynes, was on the school's board of trustees. Every Sunday, Sorrell says, he would sit in the pew, and Haynes would find him from the pulpit. Their eyes would lock as Haynes spoke about the importance of people following God's plan.

And then the Grizzlies bid fell through. So he just kept working.

"August, we couldn't even pay our full payroll, right?" he says, leaning back, semi-supine. "I had to cut everyone's salary for that whole next year. I cut my own salary by 25 percent. The VPs got their salaries cut by 20. Our directors 15, 10 percent for our faculty — everyone took a pay cut."

He says they grumbled, but it's hard to know. The school's website provides no information about or contact information for its faculty, and efforts to interview staff are met with reams of red tape. Lori Price holds the tape. She's Sorrell's friend of 17 years and his chief of staff. She refers to him only as President Sorrell. He calls her Lori.

It's Price who gives a tour of the grounds, during which there is no interaction with anyone but her. She also arranges all interviews, which she schedules back to back in a glass conference room with hand-selected faculty and students.

Dr. Kizuwanda Grant, the school Vice President of Academic Affairs, says Paul Quinn was her calling. "If I ever felt like I was going to accomplish something, it was going to be at Paul Quinn."

Maurice West, Dean of Men, is a Paul Quinn alum from the last of its Waco days. He coaches track and teaches, among other things, business etiquette. (He also offers his visitor an unsolicited appraisal: "Your collar needs pressing.")

The students come next. When Sorrell took the job, Paul Quinn had open rolling enrollment, which meant that if you could pay or get a loan, you could attend, no questions asked. The policy was a throwback to the years after the Civil War when HBCUs were created for black kids who had no other higher-education options.

When Sorrell took over, only five seniors were eligible to graduate. Students were coming to school just because they were kicked out of their homes, were bored or had no place to go. They would enroll, grossly unprepared, and would fail, get in fights or just stop showing up.

He implemented an admissions policy and created an admissions department to enforce it. To be considered, applicants needed a 2.5 GPA, a 500-word entrance essay, a letter of recommendation, an interview and, oddly, a headshot. Failing students didn't get in. Students who couldn't write didn't get in. Some students sent photos of themselves in T-shirts or wielding guns. They didn't get in, either.

It was also common for students to enroll for just long enough to receive their loan checks. As a result, the school had almost $1 million of uncollected student receivables, which had destroyed the school's credit rating. So every student who owed money got kicked out.

Some of the remaining students are paraded into the conference room. They're upperclassmen who stuck around when Sorrell was cleaning house, when their friends packed up and left in droves. They recall the way he enforced a business-casual dress code, punishable by a $100 fine or 40 pushups, for which students had to push up from the floor, clap once, and catch themselves. They remember Sorrell laughing as students grunted their way through the calisthenics, cackling, "Catch yourself or break your face!"

They also tell stories of Sorrell's kindness. Keeston McKinnon went into Sorrell's office his freshman year before the 2009 Christmas break. McKinnon lived in Detroit, and his family didn't have enough money for him to travel. Sorrell set up a traveling stipend for students who couldn't afford to travel.

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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 like.author.displayName 1 Like

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.

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. 

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.

Nupe357
Nupe357

No, it doesn't mean 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!

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


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

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

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

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

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Aj_webstar wow coming from you.. very surprising. 

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.

 
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