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.

There's also suspicion that Sorrell has something bigger planned: a run for Dallas city council or some other office. He had been prepared for office, from his Harvard fellowship to his public policy days at Duke to the four boards around Dallas on which he serves. He had bided his time for the last four and a half years, the theory went, and this was his coming-out party as a champion for the poor and underrepresented.

"It takes my breath away," Weiss says of the skepticism. "For whatever reason, people don't want to see Paul Quinn succeed."

Or maybe they just don't believe it can. Paul Quinn, like Bishop College before it, has a rich history of presidents and politicians stealing from it. (James Fantroy, a city councilman, died in 2008 shortly after a prison stint; he was convicted of embezzling more than $20,000 from the school.) It's because of this toxic reputation, Sorrell says, that he reflexively kept people at arm's length.

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.

When Peter Johnson met with Sorrell in 2007, Johnson says he had already lined up materials and manpower to fix the crumbling roads in and around Paul Quinn. Johnson says Sorrell showed up two hours late for the meeting, didn't apologize, and never spoke to him again.

Sorrell says he doesn't remember the meeting happening, but that it could've happened. Johnson also claims the 10-foot gate was his idea.

"When we got started, things were extreme," Sorrell says. "There were lots of people who came by, telling me we could do lots of things. Ninety-nine percent of those people couldn't do jack." The experience made him judicious when he met with suitors in his presidential office, he says.

"I didn't have a margin of error, right? I couldn't get it wrong. A lot of people try to come in and make money off of us. And I am very clear: 'We're not paying you jack.'"

It didn't appease his skeptics that Sorrell then accepted money from philanthropist Trammell S. Crow. Crow donated $1 million to Paul Quinn in 2010, the largest single gift ever, for Sorrell to demolish 15 abandoned buildings. (Crow refused to be interviewed, citing a previous dispute with this newspaper.)

"The money was great, and we appreciate it," Sorrell says of the donations. "But what meant the most to me was, here's this guy who doesn't have to believe. But he got it, right? He believed. And I'm one of these people, if you believe, I will run through a wall for you." They went out to lunch when Sorrell was new to the school, and they've been friends ever since.

The perception was compounded when Bob Weiss was voted in as chairman in January of 2010, two months after his employer, the Meadows Foundation, donated $500,000 to the school. The college had never elected a chairman who wasn't a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Weiss is a Jew from North Dallas.

"I don't think those schools can survive having to depend on white corporate dollars," Johnson says. He wants the black schools to be supported by the black community, "and not be dependent on whether or not we piss some white man off who'll cut the money off."

Flow control would eventually be shot down by the courts, but not before Sorrell got one more march in. When the 2011 school year started, Sorrell showed up at City Hall again, and this time he brought the whole campus. They even wore custom-made shirts. They read, "I Am Not Trash."


"I almost bought it," Sorrell kept saying in that hospital bed. "I almost bought the farm."

When most men would have taken time off, maybe moved to Tahiti, Sorrell kept working, and he kept skipping out on sleep. He even started teaching. It wasn't until he married Natalie and had his first son, Michael, that he listened to his doctors.

But even then he kept teaching.

Last fall, during the first week of his Business Seminar class, he assigned his students to read the Sunday New York Times. They'd be quizzed on the paper on Monday, he said. He'd pick one article. If they could properly demonstrate they'd read it, they'd get an A. If they couldn't, they'd fail.

That Sunday morning, the students piled into cars in twos and threes and headed to the nearest newsstands, but they couldn't find the paper. Two friends, Ryan Carrington and Valette Reese, were the most tenacious. They checked every gas station and convenience store they knew in South Dallas. They drove north on U.S. 75, stopping at every exit, until they reached a Walmart 10 miles north. They kept driving, searching, and couldn't find the Times anywhere. They showed up in class on Monday empty-handed, fearing Sorrell's wrath, an F, a batch of Quinnite pushups.

Sorrell just laughed. He knew his students wouldn't find it. Not in South Dallas. He wanted to test their persistence and to see if anyone would actually cross the Trinity on their quest. And he wanted them to think about what it meant that something so ubiquitous on one side of the river was practically nonexistent on the other.

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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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