GWU’s Final Chapter – The Cleansing of Valid Degrees

by Board of Trustees on October 16, 2015

Summary
As the George Wythe University Board of Trustees we are pleased to announce the upcoming verification and affirmation of GWU degrees through the permanent separation of those that are invalid. After six years, the completion of the institutional and academic cleanup of the University’s historical problems is coming to a close. Our detailed internal audit of student records is complete, and final disciplinary and corrective actions are underway. An external review for accuracy will mark the final step. This will leave only the valid degrees to bear the George Wythe name, exonerating the majority of graduates who have worked hard for their legitimate and properly earned credentials.

This public redemption allows the alumni to utilize their degrees without the previous burden of being connected to invalid ones, particularly the substantial number our investigation has uncovered that were issued illegally in the 1990s. This finally paves the way today for a clean public record, plus the acquisition of George Wythe students and records by another institution in order to serve them indefinitely as full service custodians. This will also increase opportunities for students to transfer into other colleges if they choose, while finally putting the George Wythe brand and its history to rest in a peaceful, cleansed and dignified manner — a goal we have pursued since 2011. Having been in discussions with five groups, we anticipate a formal announcement will be made next semester on the final cleanup report as well as a preliminary acquisition announcement contingent upon the successful cleanup. Meanwhile, as corrective actions continue, this minority of alumni affected are in the process of being located and contacted. Finally, new legislation for preventing the kind of fraudulent acts inflicted upon the school by its early administrators will be introduced this coming legislative session, drafted by the board, faculty and students.

The 2011 Question: How to properly retire GWU while best serving the students
When the Board began its intervention in 2009, it was a repair mission to fix the problems at George Wythe University for the benefit of the students and alumni. By 2010 compromises in the integrity of academic records had been discovered, making it an aggressive rescue operation, even requiring the removal of the school’s founders. By 2011, repairs through new policies and practices had progressed, but it became clear to everyone that fatal damage had occurred to the school’s reputation in deeper ways just being discovered by the board, and raising funds for a school saddled with GWU’s administrative history — even though wholly unrelated to current practices — was next to impossible.

Normally a classical liberal arts college with GWU’s mission would have no difficulty raising a few million dollars annually at the very least. Instead, however, the brand’s growing public connection to fraudulently issued degrees under its previous administrations made this unviable. After our newly appointed president, Shane Schulthies, spent the early summer of 2011 traveling to several states to speak with potential donors and other academics, he reported in the next board meeting the feedback he received on the school’s reputation in the donor world: that there was no realistic chance of future funding. This mirrored the online discussion of questionable actions by Oliver DeMille and Shanon Brooks increasingly coming into view. Given this roadblock, President Schulthies proposed that we should file that month to begin the process of closing the school.

The main concern, however, was that an abrupt closure would be devastating to students. At the time, dozens were at various stages toward graduation, and with accreditation paused there were few transfer options — none at all in the Western U.S., and none whatsoever for MA and PhD students. Moreover, closing at that time would leave the valid degrees tainted perpetually with the same status as the invalid ones — calling everyone’s degrees into question indefinitely. This would be a gross injustice to the majority of students and alumni.

Three options: Starvation, Closure, Acquisition
Meanwhile, the board had been conducting an investigation to determine the scope of compromised degrees. It had also begun consulting with a variety of organizations and academics steeped in the classics from other universities, plus a select handful of elected officials. From these conversations it was decided that if the school could complete a thorough student records audit, and clean up all lingering problems in those records, it could prepare itself for merging with or being acquired by another institution. This is by far the most common solution for colleges in distress because it provides a positive and respected transition for students. Combined with the records audit and cleanup it also restores credibility to the majority of alumni degrees as they are proven legitimate.

It was also of interest to these academics that while preparing for such a merger or acquisition, the school could additionally introduce a handful of fresh innovations, prototyping these new concepts during the final steps of our cleanup process. Our successful achievement of all these steps could justify their joining in the acquisition as well.

The first of these innovations had already been started — to weave into several classes a thread of ethical training for conscientious conduct in government and business. Masters level texts introducing case studies of conflicts of interest and ethical dilemmas were explored first under President Schulthies. In later semesters, elements of these and additional resources became a thread that began to run through several classes in each year of a student’s program. The expectation was for this approach to have a more lasting effect than a stand alone ethics class.

Moving the campus close to the state Capitol was another of these innovations. This provided rich opportunities to observe the inner workings of government up close during the legislative session, and to learn the many lessons of leadership in the real world of applied politics. Soon, the leadership ethics module expanded as well to examine the many faces of corruption and especially affinity fraud — particularly when predators seek to exploit ideological similarities. These and other innovations were implemented to test for proof of concept, all while completing the cleanup.

The Key Problem Solvers
Perhaps the most valuable benefit of moving to Salt Lake City was our close proximity to the Utah State Law Library at the Matheson Courthouse, the Legislature, and our authorizing agency, the Division of Consumer Protection. This allowed us to inquire frequently about how to properly resolve the lingering degree and transcript problems. We approached the Division with questions in 2012, and to our pleasant surprise, they took their mission of protecting the interests of the students as seriously as we did. Every conversation during this new phase was positive and constructive. Encouraged by their diligence in finding answers, we pressed on with new zeal for solving the most vexing problems once and for all. With a mutual interest in the welfare of students, their professionalism was vital as we brought the school in for a safe landing. After significant research we finally arrived at the remedies we implement today.

With corrections underway, each year permitted more students to graduate so that fewer would need to be transferred. Before moving to Salt Lake we had already closed the MA and PhD programs to new students, but the non-traditional students who were enrolled part-time progressed at a slower pace. Since graduate level credit is more difficult to transfer, even into an acquiring institution’s programs, these were at the greatest risk of being stranded. After discussing this dilemma with state authorities in 2014, we examined three dozen graduate programs and created two new degrees modeled after programs at Georgetown and the College of William and Mary — an MA in Liberal Arts, and a PhD in American Studies. More streamlined and flexible, these allowed our students to transfer over and accelerate their pace to graduation. These opportunities were a major benefit for these students.

The Final Deep Cleaning
Meanwhile, discussions with potential acquirers continued to hinge on one detail: a completed student records audit and cleanup report. This task proved to be larger and more complicated than originally imagined. Our first pass through the data yielded our 2013 preliminary report announced here. While evaluating degrees we often uncovered surprises, however, which would increase the scope of the audit. By the end, each degree would require investigating and verification on 46 separate questions, always performed by at least two auditors together. Since today the school runs primarily on pro bono and volunteer effort, this detailed work required much more time than expected.

We are happy to report, though, that our internal audit is now complete, and this recent summer we presented our findings to the Division in a special meeting. It should be kept in mind that this was not a requirement made by them, but a plan we initially proposed and then discussed and improved after exploring how thorough cleanups are conducted — deciding that this was best procedure for validating the good degrees earned by students. Although the law states that the Division will hold a copy of student records for ten years, after our corrective actions and the third party both validate the degrees with a clean bill of health, the student records can then pass the scrutiny of a permanent acquirer for indefinite custodial care and servicing.

It should be understood that for private colleges like ours the Division carries the authority previously held by the Board of Regents. Stories occasionally circulate about the Division being over-reactive, overreaching and anti-business. This has not been our experience. Instead they patiently and diligently answered our questions as we solved problems for cleaning up the messes of the school’s early administrators. After our report, they mentioned that they’d never experienced a school approaching them to undertake a cleanup on their own. We attribute this to the simple fact that we are an intervention board cleaning up the prior messes of others. This aligns our goals naturally with the legal mandate of law enforcement in a plain manner — to help innocent student victims recover from many years of deception, and to prevent it from happening again.

Findings
Our findings from the student records audit indicate that the majority of degrees (91%) awarded under George Wythe Foundation ownership (2002-2015) are academically and legally sound. Of the 99 degrees awarded under DeMille while the school was under the prior governance of Coral Ridge Baptist University (1992-2001), 74 degrees require either corrective or disciplinary action due to deficiencies mainly consequent to life-experience credit exceeding legal limits. These range widely in severity. They also include seven graduate degrees currently slated for revocation hearings, as well as the three that were revoked in 2012. Of the degrees earned by students on campus, problems were rare during any year or period. The vast majority of administrative misconduct occurred with degrees awarded through the distance program during the Coral Ridge years, which ended in 2001.

Alumni are in the process of being contacted and revocations, disciplinary and corrective actions are currently underway with the affected students. At the completion of the third party verification for accuracy, our final audit report will be presented to the public and the separation of George Wythe degrees from invalid degrees will then become permanent.

Formalizing the Teachout with the State
For six years this has been a tedious, grueling and expensive process, especially with the endowment and majority of the school’s funds having been siphoned away by 2009. Since donations have been difficult to come by, new board arrivals intervening to help with the cleanup have had to use their own funds or have volunteered large amounts of time. Over this period the personal sacrifices by the cleanup board, their families and the staff have exceeded $500,000. With funds winding down toward the end of this process of teaching out our students, at one point last year (2014) they briefly dipped to zero during the summer when the budget is always the slimmest. This triggered a flag in the Division’s processes and so we arranged a meeting to give them an update. After explaining that we needed more time to complete the cleanup and teachout, they formalized a settlement agreement that allowed us to continue for another year. We then reported our finished internal audit and the final corrective paths some alumni will need to remedy their degrees. At that time they extended another year, although most alumni requiring corrections will need less than that. However bumpy the road, we have finally arrived, and George Wythe degrees will soon be free of their struggle.

Occasionally we encounter someone under the impression that the George Wythe brand should continue on. We understand this feeling, but such people have never seen the student records audit or understand the depth of the financial damage the school inherited. They also lack an understanding of fundraising. While this final cleansing will be complete, and degrees remaining with George Wythe will be certified independently as legitimate, the former connection to DeMille and Brooks cannot be erased from the school’s history. The donor world upon which universities depend is naturally sensitive to matters of integrity, and those sensibilities and habits do not change. Nor should one fault those sensibilities. Trust is the most delicate feature of all relationships, even institutional ones.

Anti-Fraud Legislation
Finally, we are also drafting legislation to be sponsored this coming year with very simple measures that would likely have prevented the tampering with transcripts, fraudulent degrees, conflicts of interest and similar misconduct that compromised the integrity of George Wythe by the early administrations and ultimately inflicted injury upon its students. After all, none of this had to happen. Likewise, it shouldn’t be allowed to repeat elsewhere. The state of Utah has every reason to be a model of honesty and integrity. The solutions under consideration are simple and being crafted by our board, faculty and students alike, and partially modeled after laws in other states. The details will be presented in forthcoming announcements.

Conclusion
It should be remembered that the typical students who choose classical liberal arts colleges in the tradition of the Great Books do so for the curriculum itself; the chance to study and discuss deeply. People don’t whimsically devote time to compare Plato and Aristotle, Confucius and Augustine, Hume and Popper, Hayek and Marx and dozens more in the classical canon, and beyond, in order to find shortcuts and avoid hard work. Nor did our students. They sought an educational experience for itself in a community of serious learners, and simply expected proper recognition of their degrees.

The overwhelming majority of GWU students and alumni acted in good faith and can be proud of their education. With it they have advanced to pursue graduate studies at top tier programs and other worthwhile pursuits. It is these students that we have worked so hard to exonerate and protect. We love them and are grateful for their support during these lengthy cleanup years. Their words of encouragement and appreciation have lifted our spirits and given us the strength to persevere. We look forward to sharing further announcements on the final cleansing of their alma mater’s reputation. The historical record will show that students allowed to hold degrees from George Wythe did not cheat, but were honest and diligent. We especially thank those officials in the Division of Consumer Protection, the Utah legislature, the Governor’s office and elsewhere who never gave up on the students.

Sincerely,
The George Wythe Foundation Board of Trustees   –   October 16, 2015

Dwight Williams – Chairman
Chandra Brown
Michael Hansen
Fred Hunzeker
Sheldon Shumway
Rhonda Trone

 

Questions & Answers

If GWU and state regulators’ goals are similar on this cleanup, why does the Division use enforcement action that seems punitive against the school?
Hypothetically speaking, if GWU were to infuse large amounts of cash into its accounts, the primary basis for the settlement agreement could naturally be petitioned. We’re not interested in that. If you ask the Division you’ll find that there are no consumer complaints [as of October 2015] and they have not faulted the school’s academics. But when a school’s finances struggle and dip below thresholds, or if a routine deadline is missed, the Division is obligated to follow its procedures and explain the details. However, GWU as a legal entity must technically still be treated as its history would warrant, irrespective of whether the administrators who damaged the institution no longer remain. For example, the recent settlement agreement directly refers back to a 2011 settlement, citing “misuse of charitable donation funds, and material misrepresentations” uncovered in the state’s investigation into the years 2007-2008 when DeMille and Brooks were running the school. As explained to us, this lingering history perpetually burdens the school with “repeat offender” status, and this will trigger higher scrutiny no matter how we change its future leaders. This illustrates why it’s important to retire GWU fully, along with its ID number, on which both we and numerous state officials independently agree without reservation.

While the Division dutifully follows the law, their actions were thus by no means adversarial to us personally, but merely procedural. We willingly agreed to the settlement as a step toward helping serve our students under their watch. We continue to labor alongside state officials, with nothing changing in our similar goals for students as we complete the cleanup and teachout, and to put this ordeal behind us all by retiring the George Wythe name. In fact, the current settlement is actually an extension of the previous year’s agreement. The additional year was added after listening to our completed student records audit report and learning the number of students still needing time to remedy their degrees or to graduate. The settlement formalizes this beneficial path, which we’ve discussed numerous times with them while planning the next steps.

What happened to GWU’s accreditation efforts?
Although the administration often discussed accreditation from at least 1998 onward, it’s difficult to conceive that it was taken seriously by anyone aware of the life-experience credit being issued by DeMille — assuming they understood accreditation standards. As students increasingly pinned their hopes on accreditation, in 2006 a respected accrediting agency, AALE, was contacted and the first formal discussions were initiated. GWU staff took this task seriously but were only just learning about the standards. Two site visits later, the distractions of mismanagement surrounding the potential Monticello campus had stalled further progress. By 2011 with the existence of improper credit beginning to be realized, it was becoming clear to at least some that it might not be possible without a major systemic cleanup in the student records. As the internal student records audit was performed over the last four years it became quite obvious. If attempting to apply with the GWU name and legal identity, only with the current cleanup completed and a number of years of perfect operation would the possibility even begin to reappear, regardless of the accreditation agency.

How are Coral Ridge degrees going to be separated from George Wythe degrees?
Degrees from the Coral Ridge years certified as valid will retain George Wythe classification while all remaining unrevoked degrees unable to pass validation after remediation efforts will be annotated as such, then reclassified back to Coral Ridge degrees under their original parent organization designation. These records will be separated and stored permanently through an independent archival service. An additional copy of these records will be sent to Coral Ridge Baptist University through its parent organization.

If George Wythe intends to be acquired, why would you agree to teach out your students?
Acquisition has always depended upon our successful cleansing of the student records and degrees. Naturally, this still remains the case. Hence, reducing our numbers as we have since 2011 has been a safeguard for them, and also means less disruption, in any case, both for our students and the acquiring institution. Additionally, unless two programs are perfectly aligned, differences can result in a loss of credits toward graduation. Graduate students stand to lose the most when transferring to another school, even an acquiring one. Consequently, we hope to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone through this process.

Where can I find more information about the Board’s cleanup?
For details on all of our clean up efforts, visit this page.

More questions and answers will be posted in the future.

____________________________________________________

Comments:

 

This is an EXCELLENT email!  I feel so incredibly grateful for your work!  I have been blessed by my education at George Wythe in the past and especially now.  Thank you for picking up this ball and carrying it across the goal line!

– Melanie Ballard, MA student

 

Well Done!

The work that the board has done on the announcement and supporting documents, explanations and Q&A’s is excellent, and I applaud everyone for their diligence, sacrifice and hard work in compiling this important information for the public

The explanation of why the board chose to clean up and seek merger or acquisition is especially well written, and I am so glad that at last this is an open and public announcement.

– Alumnus, Class of 2004

 

BRAVO!!! BRAVISIMO!!!!!!

I wish I had funds to donate to heal a portion of the sacrifice you have rendered in this unselfish cause. I am astounded by what has been going on behind the scenes all this time. As it is I can pray that you will be richly blessed in ways well beyond internal satisfaction.

An enormous THANK YOU from the mother of a former George Wythe student, now twice blessed.

– Parent of a former student

 

I’m a graduate from 2006. I just want to say thank you for all you are doing to make sure we are acquired by a reputable institution. I did work hard for my degree and since earning my degree I have watched and waited in anticipation for GWU to become accredited. Knowing this will now never happen but that my degree will be transferred to another institution actually brings me much peace. After my graduation I decided to do some research of my own about DeMille and was shocked by the things I found about him. Any removal from his name and his practices is a great thing in my opinion.

Although having a degree from GWU has not stopped me from progressing academically, I’m graduating from BYU in 2016 with my JD/MBA, I will be happy to put my GWU years to rest under an accredited institution.

Thank you again for all of your hard work and efforts in mine and other students behalf.

– Steve Washenko, Class of 2006

 

Hi! I just read the latest update on the progress with cleaning up GWU. Wow! What a tremendous accomplishment, and at what a tremendous price. Well done!

-Kelli Poll, former student

 

A Tribute to George Wythe and Statesmanship

I want to say good by to George Wythe Univerisity. Thank you for expanding my depth of mind and person, enlightening me, giving me a library, perspective—an education. I was given more than a comprehensive oral exam, more than a piece of paper; I began to find myself. Thank you for my mentors Lydia, Stan, Erin, Shane, Jennifer, Gary, Dr. Smailes, Mr. Wilson, and many others who devoted time to helping me through my education and expansion of my mind. Thank you to my classmates for giving me perspectives, insights, and understanding, especially with regards to our educational choices. Thank you authors of the past. The learning will continue and you will always be remembered.

– Aurelia Stewart, Class of 2013

 

Hello from 6000 miles away in Uruguay.  I just read the GWU letter.  I am in awe of the amazing work that has been done. . . . Today, in this letter, I honor you.

– Vicki Jo Anderson, Alumnus and parent of a GWU Alumnus

 

THANK YOU!!!!! for all your amazing work with GWU. I am continually amazed at your consistency and fortitude and grateful for your efforts to make this all right in the end. My best wishes to you as things progress during the next few months!

– Former student (2003-2012)

 

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