In Celebration of Freedom of the Press
October 12, 2012
Cedar City, Utah
When I became aware of the online attack by Mother Jones, I was more than a little flattered that I was listed with the likes of Mitt Romney, Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck for a MoJo hatchet piece. Being attacked by Mother Jones is a badge of honor.
However, I was saddened by the GWU post, which includes several assertions that are misleading or inaccurate. I do know — better than anyone, perhaps — that the GWU leadership has a heavy load to bear, and regret any choices of mine that may have added to their burden. I’m sure that they were (quite understandably) flustered with the appearance of the Mother Jones piece.
Revocation of Degrees
I would like to comment on the revocation of degrees. With regard to Anne Blake Tracy, I am glad that she has now been officially censured. Many, many times over the course of several years we cautioned, admonished and rebuked her for the way in which she was representing her GW degree that was misleading and potentially even worse. I believe that revoking her degree is a last-course remedy, appropriate and long overdue, and I support the administration of GWU in this.
Regarding Mark Siljander: Mark has had a decades long ministry to develop diplomatic solutions to difficult conflicts, using religious common ground and personal relations to try to synthesize peace and cooperation in the Middle East. That he “consorted” with people that concerned the U.S. government is made obvious by the mandate of his mission. I am absolutely convinced, through long association with him, that he has no terrorist leanings whatsoever. The contrived conviction in repudiation of his alleged actions was a compromise because they had no real grounds on the accusations of greater weight. I stand in support of Mark’s character and cause and look forward to the great work he will yet do for peace and freedom.
The granting of these two degrees was not an exception. Both Anne Tracy and Mark Siljander accomplished significant work, came on campus and taught undergraduate students in a seminar format, and were given additional assignments and did supervised work which had to be submitted in drafts, and which were mentored and revised until their final acceptance for course credit.
It was admittedly not similar to typical accredited programs of the time — for it had as its purpose to be a departure from the norm, and to serve as both recognition and accountability for students whose vocations did not require an accredited degree. It was not our desire or intention to fit in to the standard practices of institutionalized academia, and those who attended GW were typically not looking for institutionalized academia.
That later administrators have chosen to transition toward the latter purpose is a matter of record, but to compare the goals and practices of the one with the other is to misunderstand what we were originally trying to accomplish. It is understandable that the current board desires to become a school more in line with the typical accredited model, and I recognize the great value in having many options available to today’s students.
I was saddened by the attacks on Shanon Brooks. He is a great educator, a fabulous mentor, a community builder, a warrior for freedom and a loyal friend. And he’d be the first to acknowledge that he can also be in-your-face, intense and difficult to work with. Nevertheless, everything I have known about him over long years has shown him to be a man of integrity and character. He is a dear friend and I believe that he will continue to do great things for freedom.
Departure from GWU
Regarding my departure from GW: In August of 2010, a member of the GW leadership called and asked if I would consider resigning from the Board. I was very ill at the time and had not been actively participating with GW for some time; even so, I had been helping and consulting intermittently on request, including teaching a class that year, and was on good relations with the board and administration – as far as I knew.
He said that they were in the middle of some difficult decisions and plans, and he felt that it would be helpful if they could represent that the college was making a fresh start with all new leadership. There was never any accusation of wrongdoing on my part. It was simply a request from him with no coercion or mention of any board action, and I was glad to comply.
I had often considered resigning previously because of my ill health and limitations, and discussed it multiple times with my wife, but I didn’t want to abandon ship while they were struggling. I was deeply concerned about how my departure might impact the school during the difficult times the country, economy and institution were facing, so I stayed on out of a sense of duty. I have continued in personal friendship and even professional relations with members of the current leadership, and to my knowledge I was leaving on the best of terms.
I have never been asked by GWU for help in knowing the details regarding the time period in question, or for any clarification on any question they have raised in their post.
I have three adult children presently attending GW, and was told just one week ago from the Chairman of the Board that my daughter was the “star of the school”, and that her teachers were delighted with her level of preparation and intelligent discourse. Needless to say, GWU’s response to Mother Jones took me by surprise, and I look forward to happier days with old and dear friends. My prayers and blessings are with the leaders, students, and faculty of GWU. I genuinely wish them the best of success in the years ahead.
Diann Jeppson and Leadership Education
Regarding Diann Jeppson’s break with us, I’m shocked by this. As recently as last week my wife had personal, friendly contact with her. Diann has never expressed to us any concern over the language, terminology or principles of Leadership Education, the way they were taught or the methods used to promote them.
We have conducted business jointly with Diann in support of TJEd for many years, and we still have joint interests and a contract that defines our ongoing relationship. As recently as this spring and summer she invited me to speak at two TJEd events she was running, and asked us to help her promote them as a favor.
And one final note, in support of old and dear friends. I have found those that share our passion for Leadership Education to be among the finest, most erudite, most selfless and transformational individuals, and the families that work to build a culture of self-education in their homes and their communities to be the hope of our future. Any criticism you endured in this process that was intended for me is most regrettable. Bless you all.
A friend and former student recently modeled prudence and restraint in his response to this turn of events, and I quote him here:
“I think the best lesson I learned from Ayn Rand is, ‘Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.’ I never get worked up over seeming contradictions … just understanding that I have to find the correct premise. The search for correct premises is so exciting to me. I feel like an old time explorer. I’m grateful to [you] for pointing me on the journey.”
I look forward to gaining a greater understanding of the true and correct premises that will bring reason and faith into balance here, and dismiss the apparent contradictions. My friends and colleagues are still dear to me, even when the circumstances would seem to have us at odds.
** Editor’s note: This post appears unchanged (with the exception of one minor typographical error corrected) since the day it was posted.
The post to which the above was responding has since disappeared, the one replacing it has undergone several changes, and additional posts (including some that are back-dated to appear to have been posted prior to this or the Mother Jones incident) have followed. This response was owing for some time…
Addendum by Rachel DeMille (Oliver’s wife)
When the above post went live nearly 2 years ago, Oliver asked me (as the admin on this site) to leave it as is, without any massaging or rethinking. I have honored that request. He did give me the prerogative to “add” to it in comments below the post if I had any thoughts I wanted to share later. I will do so now.
For 18 years, I worked side by side with Oliver in the development and implementation of his dream for Building Statesmen at George Wythe College (later University). Whatever shame or glory there is to assign for our walk at GWC, I own it and share it without reservation. That being said, I consider it my prerogative and obligation now to speak on some matters of controversy.
We have been reticent to perpetuate the conflict, thinking that the only virtue of doing so would be to assuage our own sense of injustice – and this was not reason enough for us. We quite honestly feel protective of GWU, having conceived it and travailed for it for the better part of our lives together, and would do anything to ensure its success in the worthy mission we and others set upon together so long ago.
We would have hoped to avoid, at all costs, any diminishment of its credibility, effectiveness or viability. We would never want to besmirch the good efforts of those who teach and learn there, or discourage any new prospects from finding what value they may. While it is not for everyone (no school is!), we have friends that we love and respect who are happy with the experience their children are having at GWU as students.
Oliver is indeed a maverick, and having set out at the young age of 23 to do something innovative, counter-culture and revolutionary, he walked an unblazed trail. There was no one we knew of who had the answers for him at each crossroads; no handbook which said, “break every rule – except this one” or “disregard all attempts at credibility and acclaim – except that one.” He is the first to admit that he undoubtedly made mistakes. I think it is very sad that some have taken every good thing he accomplished at GW and sought to disclaim it or divorce it from him, and taken every “bad” thing and sensationalize and spin it in an effort to discredit him for their own benefit.
Indeed, this is, in many ways, like an acrimonious divorce. Feelings are deep, and point of view colors and discolors facts, intentions and recall.
Much has been said by former colleagues that is troubling. And if it were only for our need to be heard, understood and well thought of, we would still have nothing more to say. However, it has recently come to light (and not for the first time) that, from time to time, there are others who are being injured and disrespected because of the cloud of doubt and criticism that hovers due to innuendos, inferences and assertions that have been left unanswered. Out of consideration for these innocents who are impacted by the attacks on our reputation, I will now offer my personal account of things that have been brought into question.
I. Regarding Shanon Brooks, “Unauthorized Land Transfer” and other “financial misdeeds”
During the early part of the Recession, GWU experienced a downturn in both enrollment and donations, and a budgetary crisis ensued. Employees who fulfilled their roles in good faith and with excellence were left unpaid. GW had no means to fulfill its obligation to these employees. The Board decided that an account that had been funded by donations earmarked for the development of a new campus in Monticello, UT should be used to pay these employees.
This led to a new crisis: the draining of the donor account and a pronouncement by the Board regarding their reversal on Monticello campus development effectively put an end to a project that was fully in motion, with one service provider in particular who was deeply extended financially in the development of the campus.
This provider expected promised payment. When the project was declared defunct, he demanded payment immediately.
Meanwhile, the donors who had energetically hosted a campaign and dedicated funds for the project were likewise up in arms. Shanon Brooks, who was, at that time, the President, CEO and CFO, determined that the legal exposure for the school was critical. A lawsuit, or lawsuits, that would have certainly drained any available assets of the school (which were virtually non-existent at that moment in time) was imminent; such a suit would also likely have implicated the personal assets of those who sat on the Board, as they could have been held personally liable for their decisions which resulted in the provider’s and donors’ losses.
Shanon acted to resolve the conflict with the service provider by negotiating a forgiveness of the debt in exchange for a small portion of the acreage owned by the college. He also used his personal influence and good will to calm the donors who were likewise threatening to sue for the misappropriation of their donations and those of other donors who participated in the campaign they led. This he did, even though he had since resigned (and been the subject of misleading with public censure by the Board). Oliver and I protested their action and tried to bridge the rift, to no avail. But in spite of the rift, Shanon not only resolved the immediate crisis with the jilted service provider (which some have argued – ignorantly and without basis – he had an interest in doing), but quelled the outrage of the donors – with no personal gain to be accomplished in so doing, and considerable cost to his good will with them. Why would he do that? Because he is not the man they have said he is, his intentions are not what they say they are, and his actions are not as they have characterized them. I do not say they lie; I say only that there is more to the story, and their version is not an unbiased depiction of the events and the actors involved.
Having been in the position of responsibility over the college, and exerting every effort to meet payroll (even when we, personally, had to go unpaid), I understand the dynamic of wanting to take care of your people. And, having been in a position to take responsibility for the actions of others and make things happen, even when that meant making an unpopular choice or taking a financial loss myself, I understand what motivated Shanon’s actions.
And yet, it is ironic that Shanon’s re-appropriation of assets is repudiated (even though this action did not exceed the bounds of his prerogative to act on the college’s behalf on such matters), and the context in which he acted–caused, in large part, by the Board–is nowhere referenced in the narrative provided by GWU. It is a testament to Shanon’s nobility and singleness of purpose that he has not publicly protested this mischaracterization of his leadership.
There was, indeed, a great rift between Shanon and the Board, and no love lost. However, I take great exception to the document that is shared on the GW website in which the board agrees to a settlement with the State of Utah “acknowledging” infractions and violations. I recognize the expediency of cooperating with the powers that be when your very survival is at stake. However, I believe, in hindsight, that a different way of cooperating might have been preferable. While the GW Board takes great pains to point out that Oliver was always Shanon’s direct superior, at no time was he ever asked for help to sort out any questions regarding financial dealings, or respond to inquiries.
Indeed, the Board’s characterization of Oliver as “inactive” is, in absolute terms, not inaccurate; but in context, it should be noted that history now reveals that almost from the outset, there was a “secret board” that had an agenda they never disclosed, and which said one thing to Oliver, asking for his support, marketing, teaching and so forth, while privately colluding to discredit him without allowing him the courtesy of knowing their concerns, issues or objections. If he was “inactive,” it was, in large part, because they excluded him from all but the most cursory of board business even while they exploited his influence, talents and good name as it suited them.
In point of fact, while the State had the school in hot water, when Oliver was approached about resigning I asked specifically if there were any allegations of wrongdoing on his part, because he had a right and responsibility to answer for such; I recall that Dr. Schulthies brought up the question of the Cayman Islands trip, and the issue of us staying at a “luxury resort.” I explained to Shane the details (enumerated below), and he seemed satisfied that there was no ethical or financial violation.
In short, I was expressly told that there was no allegation of wrongdoing, that Oliver was beloved and appreciated, and this was simply a formality that would help the school to say they had made a clean break with the past. He did communicate that they were unanimous and resolute on this point, and we agreed with the appropriateness of this course for the good of the school, and for Oliver. And yet, it seems they were not transparent with him or us about all that factors relating to the decision to be made. I do not believe Dr. Schulthies knowingly misled us; I believe he, too, was ignorant of the Board’s agenda and the implications they would entail on this action. In any case, Oliver was glad to resign at this juncture, both for his own health reasons, and to help the school move forward.
But back to the settlement with the State: The fact that it exists, and that in it the Board agrees to admit to certain violations, does not actually mean that such violations took place. They never sought to defend against the allegations or present answers or evidence to the contrary. Perhaps due to ideological differences or personality conflicts or political expediency, they walked the line, rather than defining a new one that was both factual and fair. Perhaps they simply did not have the answers to the questions that were raised; but they never asked for help to respond to them from the parties in question. They preferred to accept blame on behalf of someone not represented, and then make him the scapegoat. In fairness, I do not think the board disbelieved that there was wrongdoing, or that they manipulated the situation with the purpose of unfairly persecuting Shanon; I do believe that, in light of pre-existing issues that colored the rapport of the relationship, due diligence was not fully paid, and justice was not served.
It should also be noted that the language provided by GW on their site is vague, and seems to imply that Oliver was named and restricted from having leadership at GW. This is not the case, and to my way of thinking, could be another evidence that transparency is not actually the goal, but moving forward, leaving dead ancestors, so to speak, to take the fall.
II. Regarding the Leadership Retreat in Cayman Islands
Almost every year during Oliver’s tenure as chief administrator, the college leadership took a few days on retreat for training and planning purposes. I recall one such retreat at a timeshare in St. George, and another in a rented cabin in BrianHead. Those who work in teams on high-stakes projects know and understand the value of such retreats.
One of the GW faculty/admins, Andrew Groft, had a moonlighting venture in which he was the facilitator and guide for a summer Europe trip that youth and parents took every other year. As the event organizer he would negotiate group rates, pay for it all on his credit card, and get reimbursed by the participants. As a result, on the year in question he had a large amount of available sky miles. He offered to use those sky miles to fly the 3 couples (Groft, Brooks and DeMille) to Grand Cayman. This airfare cost the college nothing. The college rented a small condo in a residential area of the island that the 3 couples shared.
It was literally a 40 minute drive in either direction to get to the beach – not luxury accommodations on resort row. Food was mostly from a local grocery store, prepared in the condo kitchen between retreat planning sessions, and paid for by the respective couples.
This retreat, though it looked glamorous on paper, was not costly. And it was a work retreat. During the several days we were there, we went once to the north beach, and once to the south beach, for an hour or two at each. In fact (if memory serves), I’m pretty sure that Oliver never actually went swimming the whole time. (And for this, he received considerable teasing.) When the rest of us were in the water, he was in a chair with a notebook and pen, debriefing the last session and planning the next one.
It is true that when GWU underwent a review by the State of Utah, the Cayman trip was flagged, asking for explanation – simply because the destination looks sexy and “extravagant”. It was lovely, to be sure – but not extravagant, and certainly not an abuse of funds. This should have been told to the State, and could have been – if anyone had asked. But it was seemingly not the Board’s purpose to exonerate the accused, or even to clarify the facts — but rather to shift any negativity away from the current leadership. This is understandable, and, in a certain way, wise. Nevertheless, there was no wrongdoing, and to characterize it as such is either ignorant or purposely misleading – and either is tragically unfortunate, in my opinion.
III. Regarding Oliver’s Education
This one is almost the hardest to answer, because I’m not entirely sure I understand the question. Is it true that GW, an unaccredited college, is challenging Oliver’s degrees because they are unaccredited? How does that even make sense?
In any case, I’ll respond to it.
1) Oliver has never misrepresented his degrees, which were obtained from an “unaccredited” institution. To the contrary, his pursuit of an education outside of the currently-called-“traditional” methods has been the whole foundation, the background narrative of TJEd. That story has been told from day one, loudly, proudly and to anyone who would listen – especially, and often, to those who worked and studied at GW, right from the start, and up until the end of his tenure there. There has never been any deception on this issue, nor inclination to deceive. It is both contrary to Oliver’s character and his purpose to either “hide” or “misrepresent” the details of this important aspect of his life. It is not incidental, trivial or historically irrelevant to who he is or what he does; it is pretty much the whole point. He shares this story with boldness and candor, and always has.
To summarize: He found that his experience as an acclaimed and handsomely rewarded student was not resulting in the type of education he thought it would, or that he knew he would need and want in life. So with just 11 credits left in a straight-A degree program that he was in – totally paid for by 2 separate full-ride scholarships, because of his success as a student – he dropped out of college in order to study with a private mentor, with no glory, and at his own expense.
Not only did he forfeit the “free” education he was getting at the university to take on this incredible, life-changing opportunity, but he also gave up the second scholarship, which was paying our living expenses. Why would he do that? The only conceivable reason is the one he gives: he really, truly wanted a different education than the one he was getting, and was willing to do anything he could to make it happen. The story of that journey is available to read here: http://oliverdemille.com/about-oliver-demille/oliver-demille-history/
There has never been any deception about the fact that his degrees were unaccredited, or that he took a non-traditional approach to his education. He is proud of this fact. He would do it again. And the fact that year after year after year, for hours daily, week-in, week-out, full-time students and adults in continuing education seminars hailed him as an exceptionally effective and well-prepared mentor makes it clear that the education he had gotten and continued to pursue was, in a word, exceptional. And it showed in the quality of the educational program he developed and in the loyalty of his students, many of whom who went on to be very successful in many types of academic, entrepreneurial, social leadership and community leadership endeavors. That fact cannot be denied.
It is unclear to me, then, exactly what type of disrepute the Board of GWU means to level against Oliver. That his degrees were unaccredited, and that he took an alternative course to achieve his educational goals? To express scandalous shock at this is akin to trying to make hay out of the fact that “Obama is a liberal!!“. It is not only obvious, it is intentional, and a label worn with pride. Do they challenge the results of his education? I cannot imagine how, as they are at the helm of one of his crowning achievements as a student and teacher, fighting tooth and nail for its success and future. So, again – not really sure what they’re trying to communicate when they challenge Oliver’s educational history.
2) While Oliver stands by the rigor and quality of his education, he has never used “letters” behind his name in order to promote his ideas as more “credible.” The very first edition of A Thomas Jefferson Education back in 2000 was published by author, “Oliver DeMille” – no credentials listed (although the story of his journey and non-traditional education is prominently featured in the book).
He has always been, and is still, averse to the idea that “credentials” make one’s ideas more worthy. He prefers that his ideas stand on their own merit. Nowhere will you find him using his degrees to try to gain some special advantage over someone, to make money, to sway someone to take him more seriously, or to change their views about the books he writes or the ideas he promotes. He has always stood on the merit of the ideas, nothing more. To suggest that he ever used “degrees” or “letters” to dupe or mislead anyone is simply baseless. A man half as clever and devious as some might say he is would certainly have found better ways to make money off of people, LOL. Telling people to go to the library and read the classics is not a big money maker, to be clear. 🙂
3) I was personally involved in the conversation where Oliver chose to resign, in order to help GW out of a difficult spot. I know exactly what was said, and Oliver’s version of the events is not spun or distorted in any way. He had only stayed on, during a very difficult illness that almost claimed his life, because he was afraid it might hurt the institution should he leave while they were vulnerable. It was a heartbreaking relief to finally move on to focus on healing.
During his tenure as chief administrator of GW, the college never had debt, and always delivered on its obligations – no matter whether or not we received our very modest pay.
Again – Oliver is (I will say without shame or exaggeration) a pretty smart guy, and talented. If he had any inclination to build a scheme to make money off of people, this was perhaps the most labor-intensive and least “profitable” (in terms of monetary return) that I can possibly imagine. It required everything of us, and over the course of several years amassed a huge debt of unpaid wages to him that he forgave, in order for the institution to be financially sound. It’s what you do when you love what you do, and the people you do it for. We were AMPLY paid in so many other ways, and would do it again given the same opportunity. He never abused the trust that was placed in him, and although he and others were stretched thin and undoubtedly made mistakes, anyone acknowledging the facts could never accuse him of any dishonesty, deception, or taking unfair advantage or gain from the school’s resources. It simply did not happen.
4) Almost without exception, the success stories of GWU were students of Oliver. The new regime has not had time to show much in terms of results, and certainly they will come. But the wonderful comments from alums and their exemplary achievements are reflective of the educational quality that Oliver helped to inspire in the George Wythe educational design, curriculum and methodology. Any credit due to GW over the years cannot be divorced from his influence and vision.
I won’t belabor this here; Oliver has answered in his own words above.
Oliver’s statement has stood (with exactly one minor word change when I found an editing error some months back) as you find it here since the day it was posted, on the date it says it was posted. He has not had to massage it or reframe it or take back anything he said. He’s an uncomplicated man with a clear conscience.
5) TJEd is a “brand” that Oliver and I own, but the ideas are timeless, and not of our creation. There are many who promote ways of applying TJEd, some for profit. As a business, we, the “Official” TJEd have a strong commitment to spreading the ideas as Job 1. We have an immense, almost unmanageable, amount of free content available on our website. We charge for the things that cost us to produce, and do our best to keep the price low. We are careful about how we use others’ funds. If someone cancels a subscription, for example, I refund the current month’s fees for unused product.
Recently we introduced a new product on our site, and when I discovered that it was being sold for less elsewhere I not only lowered the price on our site, but went back and refunded the twenty-or-so purchasers who paid more the difference in cost. We simply don’t want to charge more than is absolutely necessary to do what we love, and what we feel called to do. And even at that, we do a LOT of gifting of our product. A lot. Every time we offer some new thing, I respond to requests for special consideration with a glad heart! We feel so blessed, and are grateful to share what we can with those whose circumstances make paying full price (even though we try to price things within almost anyone’s budget) a hardship. That’s just fun to do, and I always feel like it’s an honor to be a boon to someone who’s going through a sanctifying experience.
But back to the subject: Last fall we gave away all of our premium products for free for a couple of months. Currently the 7 Keys Certification (sort of a Face to Face seminar in a jar) is available free to anyone who has the TJEd books. Rarely do we see anyone actually take on TJEd in principle. Personal attacks are easier, I suppose, and hopefully people see through that and have the clarity to make their own decision on what works for their family, whether or not they think Oliver and I are nice people, LOL.
I am deeply sorry for the difficulty this issue has been or may be for those who struggle against opposition. I (and I speak for Oliver on this as well) do not claim that TJEd is for everyone, or that we know best for someone else’s family. We literally welcome challenges in the arena of ideas that may help us better present our message, and improve our understanding of excellence in education and preparation for a personal mission.
Even if someone may conclude, for reasons of conscience or other preference, that they do not want to associate with us, we hope that they will still find use for the principles and ideals that we have tried to promote. We honestly believe that they are vital to our future, and to the success of families and freedom for our children and their children.
I hope this clears up any misunderstandings; or, at the least, invites enough of a different perspective that all the parties in question are given a reasonable benefit of the doubt.
Again, it is not my intention or desire to cause injury to the College or anyone associated with it. I simply felt it was time to respond to the charges of impropriety.
Oliver is my hero, and the best man I know. It’s a joy and an honor to be his companion in life and mission.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any question or concern that I have not addressed. I will do my best to respond.