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Letter to Knoxville College asks president, board to step down

A letter sent to Knoxville College’s leadership last summer asks all board members, including President Leonard Adams, to step down. The letter, from Knoxville attorney John P. Valliant Jr. on behalf of former employees, says the board and Adams engaged in financial mismanagement and created a toxic work environment that negatively affected the surrounding community.

Dated Aug. 16, 2023, the letter has also been sent to Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office. It is not known whether the attorney general is currently investigating the matter.

The complaints in the letter say the board and Adams gave themselves raises, despite the college’s shaky financial health. It also says that Adams interfered with attempts made by board members to investigate his financial interests with Knoxville College and several loans taken out in the name of the school.

Adams responded to questions about the letter in a Feb. 28 email:

“Unfortunately due to the legal content referenced, we are currently working with our legal team to yet again digest what was said in your article and the August 2023 letter,” he wrote. (Adams was referring to a Feb. 27 story published and aired by WUOT.)

"Every one of those numbers in that letter is something that we have evidence that they've done," Valliant Jr. said in a phone interview. "I've got a file full of letters from either alumni or prior board members. Most of the information came from ... a variety of different sources."

The letter also says that at some points, the school was misrepresented as having free tuition while charging students to attend.

The letter notes the two bodies that were discovered last summer by emergency crews inside one of the campus’s buildings. Multiple fires have been reported on campus grounds over the years.

The letter cites Tennessee Code Ann.§ 48-58-110 on removal of directors by judicial proceeding. Valliant Jr. wrote in the letter that information supporting the allegations of "fraudulent and dishonest conduct" came from former board members and alumni. Valliant Jr. said the lack of board oversight led to the decision to send the letter to the state attorney general.

Knoxville College, a historically Black school, applied for re-accreditation in January.

Jacqui was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021 with a bachelor’s in communications. Outside of work, she likes to go to baseball games, walk dogs at her local animal shelter, and hike.