Response to Mother Jones article on Mitt Romney and George Wythe University

by Board of Trustees on October 11, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In response to the story published by Mother Jones this morning on Mitt Romney and George Wythe University, the GWU Board of Trustees finds serious journalistic negligence with Mother Jones’ distortion of the facts surrounding George Wythe University and Mitt Romney’s participation in the school’s 2009 gala.

First, although Mitt Romney was gracious enough to introduce Mr. Beck via video at the event, the Board of Trustees is not aware of any endorsement of any kind. Furthermore, there was no contact or dialog between the school and Mr. Romney either prior to or after the video introduction itself.

Second, George Wythe University has a strict policy of not accepting or awarding any life experience credit whatsoever. The awarding of credit for life-experience documented outside of coursework was permitted only by the early administrators of the school such as Oliver DeMille. Such officials were asked to resign from the institution years ago, a fact that Mother Jones was fully informed about prior to their publication date but intentionally neglected to disclose. The former tolerance of such credit has been unequivocally condemned by the school, just as we likewise condemn the irresponsible and deceptive pseudo-journalism of Mother Jones.

Third, GWU only graduates a handful of students yearly, and over twenty alumni have been admitted to graduate schools across the nation, including Harvard Graduate School of Education, Michigan State University College of Law, George Washington University Law School, UCLA Law School, Pepperdine University School of Law, Washington & Lee University School of Law, and many more. A sample of these has been published on the GWU website for years, and this was expressly pointed out to Mother Jones during their interviews.  GWU alumni who go on to study law do particularly well, and that has become the primary niche of the school. Of course, this flies in the face of the narrative Mother Jones wanted to tell of the school somehow being a “diploma mill” and so they intentionally omitted it.

Fourth, George Wythe University is a classical liberal arts college with an expansive and rigorous curriculum based largely on the Great Books of Western Civilization. Primary sources are its academic foundation, chiefly arising from works of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Tacitus, and the rest of the classical canon from antiquity up through modern times. Any works by Cleon Skousen formerly included in the curriculum would have comprised an infinitesimal fraction of student readings, and of which students would always be free to challenge, and often do in such a rigorous and open academic setting. Indeed, students study Adam Smith alongside Karl Marx, C.S. Lewis alongside Nietzsche—always to contrast opposing views. Mother Jones was once again in full possession of the facts, particularly about Skousen’s writings, which was confirmed via phone call, but they still attempted to brand the school with Skousen’s works, even though they were deleted from the curriculum over two years ago. This again amounts to nothing more than hack journalism on the part of Mother Jones.

Fifth, Mother Jones’ citing of obscure writings of DeMille to draw some imaginary conclusion about the school’s teachings demonstrates yet further disregard if not contempt for the facts. Mother Jones was made fully aware during the interviews that GWU has separated itself entirely from Oliver DeMille. GWU is a classical liberal arts school and none of DeMille’s writings are in the curriculum. Moreover, no one has any recollection of DeMille’s obscure and speculative political missives ever being part of the curriculum at any time in the history of the school.

Sixth, when Mother Jones called, we expressly informed them over the phone and in writing that two degrees were in the process of being revoked. We also told them that if they were interested in knowing the names of the individuals after our board meeting scheduled for the following day, they could include that information in their article. It’s clear, however, that Mother Jones realized that such details would thwart the narrative they wanted to tell about GWU being a “diploma mill.” Hence, their rush to publish. Shortly after that phone conversation, at 6:11 PM on Tuesday, the board member they interviewed sent them the full announcement including the fact that degrees were being revoked (not something that “diploma mills” ordinarily do). Still, Mother Jones intentionally omitted those facts from their story, despite their utter relevance and timely arrival, but chose other, less relevant details to mention from that announcement instead.

One of those degrees revoked was the doctorate awarded to former congressman Mark D. Siljander. Ironically, Siljander was a major part of the Mother Jones story. Of course, we also called Mother Jones following the board meeting and left a message stating that it was now permissible for us to share the names. Rather than seek to obtain such detail, they avoided it. Of course, Mother Jones also knew that any degree revocations didn’t align with the narrative they wanted to tell.

Seventh, Mother Jones also cites an offhand comment made by an attorney named Beth Phillips who worked for the Department of Justice during Siljander’s sentencing memo. While Phillips’ conclusions about Siljander’s degree were very similar to our own independent findings when revoking his degree, her offhand comment that GWU was a “well known diploma mill” was mere conjecture on her part with no basis or bearing, and in no way was an official “label” by the Department of Justice of any kind as purported by Mother Jones. No proceedings have ever been pursued or even filed by the Department of Justice toward GWU in any way. This stretching of facts and meaning borders on journalistic libel.

If Mother Jones had any journalistic integrity, they would have told an evenhanded account of the story of George Wythe University—perhaps even of its curriculum being rigorous enough that its hardworking students and alumni get into top graduate schools despite accreditation being unfinished. Mother Jones’ irresponsibility and lack of diligence is especially egregious by virtue of the fact that they had expressly received all of this information days prior to publication.

Here you will find our official statement which we prepared over the summer.  It details the completion of the school’s four year transformation, including the revocation of degrees.

Sincerely,
The George Wythe Foundation Board of Trustees