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Harris-Stowe

An emergency call box stands in the center of campus across from Harris-Stowe State University's administration building on Friday, April 29, 2016. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

A lack of revenue is among the enormous challenges facing historically black colleges around the country, but inadequate finances is no excuse for the kinds of lapses evident at Harris-Stowe State University.

The midtown university’s failure to have working emergency-call stations is inexcusable. And, although we believe ex-offenders deserve a second chance, the failure to provide proper oversight in hiring felon Tammy Kimbrough as human resources director suggests a severe level of laxity.

University President Dwaun Warmack needs to account for hiring Kimbrough and other administrative gaffes reported Sunday by the Post-Dispatch’s Koran Addo and Jeremy Kohler.

One of the more serious problems is allowing public-safety operations to be commanded by Ricky Perry, a former East St. Louis police officer who resigned from the force after showing up drunk to a burglary call. Perry was a defendant in eight police brutality cases during his career in Illinois.

Warmack, 39, is the third president to run Harris-Stowe since 2011, following Henry Givens Jr.’s resignation after more than 30 years.

Equally troubling is the school’s pattern of low academic performance, which predates Warmack’s arrival. Its 10 percent graduation rate is among the lowest in the country. Starting salaries for graduates are $20,000 lower than the national average.

Warmack should make his first priority raising achievement. Even with money on the line, in the form of competition for part of $33 million from a performance funding bill passed by state lawmakers, Harris-Stowe has been slow to address the challenge.

There’s nothing wrong with helping ex-offenders get their lives back on track, but Warmack went too far hiring and then protecting Kimbrough in a job where she would be charged with sensitive tasks such as hiring, firing and payroll. Her convictions were for mail fraud, theft and embezzlement. Warmack said he didn’t know of Kimbrough’s two prison stints, noting she had passed background checks and had a recommendation from a previous employer.

It’s debatable whether Warmack erred in keeping her on staff, although no longer overseeing payroll. Employees have a responsibility to be forthcoming about criminal histories before taking on sensitive jobs. She left her position in December, and a university website lists her as being on disability leave.

Warmack remains optimistic about the school’s growth potential. He is working to add the first graduate degree programs, teaming up with St. Louis University and Washington University to offer dual degree programs and forming partnerships in the community. He secured a $500,000 gift from Emerson last year for scholarships.

These are good signs for a university that is among the most accessible higher-education options for students in St. Louis.

Warmack must ensure the school campus is safe for students, and that their interests always come first. Harris-Stowe is a university, not a social services agency.