On Friday, the University of Memphis officially took control of the campus of Lambuth University, which closed this spring amid declining enrollments and mounting debt.
The City of Jackson, Madison County, West Tennessee Healthcare, and the Jackson Energy Authority had each contributed about $2-million to help the university acquire the campus. That money will help cover some $10.4-million in debts that Lambuth officials are trying to work out in bankruptcy proceedings.
“We already have a presence in Jackson and have been asked to expand it, but we lacked the facilities to do so,” Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis, said in an interview. The University of Memphis will immediately move its current operations in Jackson, now housed at Jackson State Community College, to seven buildings on the Lambuth campus. Eventually, the university plans to occupy all or most of the 26 buildings on the 57-acre campus.
Classes at the Lambuth campus start at the end of August. Among the programs that the University of Memphis will offer at Lambuth is a nursing program. This may have been a sore point for David Dockery, president of nearby Union University, which also offers a nursing program. In May, Mr. Dockery sent an e-mail to the mayor of Jackson, Jerry Gist, and the county mayor, Jimmy Harris, questioning the deal. He suggested that higher education institutions in the region—including Union University, Freed-Hardeman University, Bethel University, Lane College, University of Tennessee at Martin and Jackson State Community College—could create a consortium to occupy the campus. Leaders of other area institutions had offered support for the concerns Mr. Dockery raised in the message.
But after the University of Memphis’s acquisition of the Lambuth campus on Friday, there seemed to be no complaint from Mr. Dockery or other higher-education administrators in or around Jackson. “Our president has offered his congratulations,” said Mark Kahler, associate vice president for university communications at Union.
Asked whether Memphis’s offerings might lure away students who would otherwise go to Union, Mr. Kahler passed on the question: “I am not going to say any more than what I have just said.”
At the announcement of the new “University of Memphis Lambuth Campus,” held in Vernell Jones Hall at Lambuth on Friday afternoon, Ms. Raines seemed to indirectly address the concerns other institutions had raised, noting there were plenty of new and needy students to reach in the West Tennessee region. It has the lowest rates of college attendance in the state.
“We want every private and every public higher education institution in this area to flourish,” she said.