Response to Tribune article on George Wythe University

by Board of Trustees on October 21, 2015

Update 10/22/15:  Since receiving our response below, the Tribune has made some minor corrections to their story.

This morning the Salt Lake Tribune published an article on the winding down of George Wythe University. We read with interest and while some of it was accurate, we were quite disappointed in a number of misleading statements that were 180 degrees from the truth. These had both the specific and cumulative effect of painting a false image, particularly of the present situation and future plans.

The facts of record are below with explanations:

We will not merge with a “for-profit unaccredited” school
We were shocked to see the Tribune’s statement that GWU would “likely merge with another for-profit, unaccredited school.” The Tribune was fully aware that this kind of school is the precise opposite of our plans. During our recorded interview we spoke clearly about how important accreditation was to us and our students, including the problems of unaccredited schools. The word “another” also implies that GWU is likewise a “for-profit” school, which we are not, and never have been. The Tribune fully knew this, having even received our IRS form 990. Indeed, we would prefer intentionally closing the school as soon as the cleanup is completed before letting it be acquired by a for-profit unaccredited college. In fact, a non-profit institution with full accreditation has always been our only consideration.

We don’t believe the state should “save” unaccredited schools
The Tribune claimed that we “believe the state should play a role in saving future unaccredited schools.” Quite the opposite. GWU is exploring legislation that would protect students, not schools, and certainly not to “save unaccredited schools.” The legislation would add safeguards that protect the integrity of student records, to help prevent administrative fraud during any years a school is without accreditation.  We were shocked that the Tribune twisted this in reverse, despite even having a copy of draft legislation, and despite our clear conversation about accreditation being a priority.

It was GWU who approached state authorities for help with the clean up, initiating it on our own
The Tribune carefully portrayed all of our actions to clean the school and fix problems as simply corrective actions imposed on us by state regulators. In reality, it was we who approached the regulators  in 2012 to ask for help in solving the complex academic problems with student records, etc., as we cleaned up the messes left by previous administrations (see our 2015 Cleanup Statement). Throughout the cleanup, we have always worked with state regulators in a spirit of problem-solving, not as adversaries.

The attempt to discredit the Board using misrepresentation
The Tribune claimed that two board members, “didn’t make themselves available for a personal credit check as required.” Every board member fully “made himself available” providing all the information for their personal credit checks. Only in the school’s bank processing was there a problem, which required two forms to be re-submitted by our office staff. Those board members were never even aware of this technical problem. Our settlement agreement with the state, which the Tribune has, explains this event, and never suggests in any way that the two board members had any knowledge of the procedural error by the school. There is no basis for the Tribune to imply that any board members refused to make themselves available for anything. Yet they did more than imply it, they even claimed it.

Acquisition discussions have been ongoing for 4 years, contingent upon successful cleanup
The Tribune implies that under the threat of the state forcing a closure of the school we have only recently begun to explore the possibility of acquisition. Yet the Tribune was well informed that we have been on this trajectory since 2011 as the final stage of a thorough institutional cleanup. Discussions with potential acquisition groups have been ongoing, awaiting the completion of this work. This was both explained and delivered to the Tribune in our 2015 announcement which they received before the publication of their article.

The school is not revoking “only a handful of the worst degrees”
The Tribune stated that we are seeking only to revoke “a handful of the most egregious degrees,” implying that some remainder of the most egregious degrees will be overlooked. They have no basis for this supposition of laxity. Three degrees have already been revoked and they ignore this (see our initial cleanup announcement in 2013). Eight more are slated for revocation hearings. In addition, 79 degrees with various problems (mostly awarded before 2001) will receive corrective or disciplinary action, which the Tribune knew. Yet they portrayed the effort as being less than a full cleansing.

GWU alumni already gain admission into graduate schools
The Tribune insinuates that we are hoping that acquisition will allow our students to get into graduate programs. The truth is that plenty of our alumni have already entered top tier graduate programs at Harvard, UCLA and the like, even without accreditation. See a list of examples here. Nearly all alumni who have sought to get into graduate programs have been able to. Those who go on to study law do particularly well, and that has become the primary niche of the school.

Our education is actually quite orthodox
The education at GWU is far from unorthodox, it’s simply a classical liberal arts college in the Great Books tradition. One can find this at numerous colleges across the nation, such as St. John’s, Thomas Aquinas, Columbia College and quite extensively in the honors programs at many colleges and universities. Our main distinction is our mission statement, which alters our application of this approach. We therefore use original sources and the Socratic method “to build men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.” We promote the search for truth just as our peer colleges do, but we take it a step further to apply it in the modern world to help promote goodness and liberty for all people.

The real story
The Tribune missed a great opportunity. The editors had the chance to set politics aside for a moment and tell a truly remarkable rescue mission. The real story is that the alumni and faculty of a deeply troubled school took over its board in 2009, expelled the founders, revoked degrees, began cleansing the records, and are protecting the students from further harm. Imagine a plane with 300 passengers that had been hijacked and damaged. Today the passengers themselves have gained control of the plane, and are bringing it in for a safe landing. They’re guided step-by-step by those in the control tower — a handful of diligent public servants working quietly as first responders.

This is not something that is often realized by the public, if at all. It’s also a notable example of a struggling private organization and their government regulators solving problems together tirelessly, rather than in opposition. Instead, the Tribune seems to have hoped to create a straw man of sorts, a hammer for bruising their ideological opponents. In their zeal they missed the true story, and a real opportunity for seeing beyond politics. Meanwhile, the once noble profession of journalism in which the public places its trust decays another notch.

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