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Oliver DeMille Responds to GW Controversies

Oliver DeMille Responds to GW Controversies

From the Desk of Oliver DeMille….

9/19/16
Cedar City, Utah

*Asterisks found in this document highlight details referenced in the documentary history found in the Exhibits.

Greetings, Friends!

I owe a debt of gratitude to so many of you for your well-wishes and show of support during a challenging time. I appreciate your kind words and your friendship.

As you are probably aware, for the past several years there has been some conflict and controversy between the Board of George Wythe Foundation and myself. When their criticism and allegations of misdeeds on my part first came to light in October of 2012, it was in the wake of an article published by Mother Jones (a liberal commentary blog) that mocked the college in general, and Cleon Skousen and myself personally, in an effort to discredit then-candidate Mitt Romney for his very tangential association with the school. Just one day after the Mother Jones post went live the Board of George Wythe published their rebuttal, which included bold statements disassociating the school from me and Dr. Skousen.

I have heard so often from you, my friends, of the respect, affection, loyalty and benefit of the doubt you have afforded me, and I want to assure that your trust in me has not been misplaced. While I am by no means perfect and I undoubtedly made many mistakes along the way, my mistakes were made in good faith and with an honest intention of doing what I believed to be best. I unequivocally affirm my innocence of wrongdoing, and this letter is intended to provide answers to questions that I believe you have a right to. I will address the following below:

  1. Exemption from the Post-Secondary Act
  2. Life Experience
  3. Standardization of Transcripts
  4. Shanon Brooks

The Rift

My accusers now claim that the rift between us occurred several years previous to their release of the public criticism against me, but for my part, both the tone and the content of their response took me by surprise. I had never had any communication from them that led me to understand that there was a serious breach in our relationship, and there were many indications up to that point that our relationship was what I had always understood it to be: one of mutual cooperation, affection, respect and support.

I was shocked at the allegations of wrongdoing that had never been discussed with me. I had hoped that their post was perhaps hasty or overwrought in response to the public criticism, and would be revised or reconsidered at some point. My answer to their criticism was posted on my blog the very next day, and was published in the spirit of support and reconciliation.

My health was such that I was basically bound to my bed or chair, and, seeking to avoid any exertion or stress that might interfere with my healing, I did not do all that I might have done to counter the allegations of wrongdoing made by the Board against me. My health was not the only consideration; at the time I believed that to respond more vigorously would perhaps escalate a confrontation to the point of no return, and I held out hope that private efforts to discuss and reconcile differences might bear sway. Indeed, right up until this very day I have chosen to remain very publicly distant from the controversy, preferring to expend every effort in private, to allow my former colleagues the opportunity to walk it back themselves, based on the information I had to share with them. I have always felt that this would be the best possible end to the conflict, and was intent on enduring considerable heartache in order to maintain a space where they still had room to revise their commentaries.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now feel that I may have done a disservice to the school and its students, and its community of friends and supporters, by not being more energetic in my response. Please accept my apology for allowing controversy and scorn toward the school and its students to persist without greater effort on my part to mitigate it.

In the same spirit of peace and friendship, I will now do my best to address questions that have been raised. As mentioned above, I have not shared my side of the story publicly because I felt that to so directly contradict my former colleagues could irretrievably harm the relationship, and I would far rather a final outcome where both sides can agree on most points, and agree to disagree on a few–but do so respectfully and without defamation. I have no desire to embarrass, humiliate or challenge the character of those who have attacked me. I have deep affection for many of those who are party to the efforts to discredit me, and I still believe that they have accomplished much good, selflessly, and are ultimately motivated by good intentions.

It is my hope that, with the benefit of insight and information that I have always tried to make available to them, we can progress to a place where the honest disagreements are in the arena of ideas, and not personal attacks. I provide this basic letter as an overview; additional, more detailed documentation is also provided on our website for those who want a more in-depth view.

I defend the right of my detractors to disagree with me, or to criticize my choices. However, I consider it a vast overreach, that ignores significant evidence to the contrary, to impute bad faith and allege fraud, dishonesty or illegality to my intentions and actions. And whereas the challenges to my character and reputation have direct impact on my students and those who have associated with me and endorsed my work, my obligation to remedy the situation has implications far beyond my personal interests, and the well-being of my family.

Legal Remedies

Not only have I extended the olive branch publicly, I have tried via private overtures to negotiate a peace whereby the Board could clearly establish where it disagreed with my ideas and choices, without crossing the lines of defamation, slander and libel. While this private effort failed over the course of dozens of attempts by many, many means and avenues, I still declined to engage in a public war of words that would put the reputation of the school and its students in the crossfire. I considered that the next responsible and ethical step to take would be to avail myself of legal procedure where rules of fair play and evidence are in force.

I have never, ever, sought to publicly sensationalize or capitalize on any mistakes that might have been made by my detractors, or to blame them for the difficulties they faced in the closing of the school. To disrespect these individuals – who have put themselves up to a challenging and largely thankless task with so little to gain on a personal level – would be to betray the mission we all worked for and professed for so many years: To build men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty. I still believe in virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, and cannot abandon them now, even though – no – because the stakes are so high and the personal cost, on many levels, is so great.

After many months of fact finding and due process in the legal proceedings, mediation was proposed and agreed to, and a date set for almost two months out, on September 15, 2016. We had carefully considered what we might propose to the Board that would honor their dignity and service, while still amending their claims of wrongdoing sufficient that they did not cross the lines of propriety and legality. Our attorney sent us a letter, from which I quote:

“It is my opinion that the insurance company representing George Wythe wanted to settle this case with you. It is my understanding that they were prepared to pay money at the mediation to accomplish this. Obviously, the reason they were prepared to do so is because the insurance company recognized the significant probability that you would prove your case of defamation before a jury.”[1]

Less than 24 hours before the mediation was set to begin, we received word that the Board now refused to meet, and would under no circumstances consider a settlement or even a discussion of any kind. In light of our attorney’s communication with the Board’s attorney, it became clear to us that the Board’s actions in refusing to mediate would eliminate their insurer’s liability to pay for any final judgment that would help us to recover our tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses in defending our reputation and the reputation of the school and its students. So in the event that we should prevail at the end of a lengthy trial, any jury award in our favor would be garnished personally on the wages of our long-time friends and colleagues. (I again refer you to our attorney’s letter.)

As you might imagine, this holds little appeal to us. It is not our desire to “bury our opponent” or punish them for having confronted us on things they believed (however mistakenly) were not right; and in light of their intransigent responses, we are led to believe that we have nothing left to gain in our pursuit of reaching either a just recompense or an amicable conclusion through the legal system.

I am terribly disappointed that the first, last and only circumstances under which I was asked by my detractors to answer their allegations was with an adversarial lawyer trying to catch me in my words, rather than across the table from honest truth-seekers trying to verify the facts. Having come to the end of the road on which I had hoped legal action might lead to a face-to-face that could be productive, we are now planning to dismiss the lawsuit and seek new means of setting the record straight and repairing, as much as can be, our reputations, and that of the school and its students.

I will now present to you, our friends, the answers to the significant questions that remain. With the school closing, and in light of the Board’s own statements in recent months, I am no longer as concerned that the fallout of a more public discussion with the Board could cause additional harm the students or the reputation of the college – and I rather hope that some healing may occur in this process.

In truth, I fear that I may have waited too long to speak, and again I must apologize for my part in allowing controversy to persist when it was in my power to answer it. I can only say that it was not an easy call to make, because I was truly concerned about the impact on the students and college community. And the process of litigating the dispute (while the cost to me has been great, in many ways) has been extremely valuable in gaining access to information, documents and testimony to clarify, verify and substantiate the facts – information that we could have gotten in no other way. The lawsuit served a purpose, and it is now time for us to divert our time and resources away from a process that promises to bear no more fruit, and into building the mission.

I am happy to say that while I am by no means perfect, and have undoubtedly made many honest (and even stupid) mistakes in my life and in my capacity as a professional educator, I can state without reservation or equivocation that my conscience is clear. I never did act with intent to deceive or take any advantage, and I always took special efforts to ensure that the school operated in harmony with its educational ideal, in a fiscally responsible manner and according to the laws that governed it.

In spite of this, the Board employed sensational and venomous language in public and private communications over the course of many years to claim, without considering any evidence or testimony that contradicted their narrative, or seeking legal opinion from qualified experts, that I “illegally” operated the school, that I “fraudulently” awarded credit and degrees, and that I altered transcripts dishonestly and without authority.

First, let me say that these claims are false. And to answer these concerns well, it is important to both define our terms, and understand the context and ideals that went into the founding and operation of the school.

1. Exemption from the Act

George Wythe College opened its doors in September 1992 under the ownership of Coral Ridge Baptist Church (CRBC) as an external degree division of Coral Ridge Baptist University (CRBU). At this time it was not empowered to grant degrees as a Utah institution [2], and in fact we had not originally contemplated being a Utah institution. The leadership of CRBC/CRBU had gotten prior approval from their accrediting agency to operate a distance program under the name George Wythe College, and GWC opened its doors as a teaching satellite and subsidiary of CRBU.

The students during the first year consisted primarily of on-campus George Wythe College undergrads, many of whom who registered to attend after attending our Youth for America and College Prep events during the 2 years previous. The degrees awarded in the first year were to undergraduate transfer students, and to graduate students, the majority of whose work [3] predated the September 1992 opening of GWC. These were CRBU- GWC distance degrees. [4]

In December 1992*, I received a phone call from Dr. Sterling Provost of the Utah State Board of Regents (the body that governed higher education in the state at that time) where he informed me that the state of Utah had requirements for registering an institution of higher education that held on-site classes within the state. Dr. Provost was initially guarded, but upon learning of our commitment to complete the registration process he assured as that there was no problem, he was friendly and helpful, and told me to just keep on doing what we were doing and complete the registration as soon as possible. I informed Dr. Donald Sills (the college president) of the contact, and he retained legal counsel to complete the necessary registration process and review all applicable code in order to ensure that we were operating in-bounds. The documents provided in our Exhibits clearly demonstrate that the dialog was responsive and on-going until the registration was completed before the next school year began.

With the assistance of and information provided by Dr. Provost, the college’s attorney successfully submitted our registration as an “exempt” institution, based on its being owned by a church, and in accordance with applicable state code*. From that time forward, and throughout its founding years, George Wythe College operated under a waiver of exemption from the Utah Post-Secondary Proprietary Schools Act [hereafter, “the Act”], granted in September of 1993* by the Utah State Board of Regents.

Dr. Provost told me in personal conversation that the college was fully exempt from the Act until such time as our exemption qualifier (being owned by a church) should change. We were also officially notified of the same in writing, and were instructed to inform the State if our ownership status should ever change. [5]

And this is not all; I will excerpt here (without edit or omission) from a letter* written by Ed Robbins, the attorney for George Wythe College:

You have asked that I answer the following question: “Is George Wythe College chartered with formal authority from the appropriate government agency to confer degrees, certificates or diplomas in the jurisdiction in which the institution operates?”

The answer to this is yes, with the explanation that Utah law does not require a formal grant of authority to George Wythe College to confer degrees, but rather allows George Wythe College to operate independently of the state regulation pursuant to a well recognized exemption from the Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act for church sponsored educational institutions.

Section 53B-5-105, Utah Code, grants a complete exemption from the Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act to any “Utah private, postsecondary, educational institution that is owned, controlled, operated, or maintained by a bona fide church or religious denomination, which is exempt from property taxation under the laws of this state . . . .” [emphasis in the original] Section 53B-5-105, Utah Code.

George Wythe College operates as a ministry of Coral Ridge Baptist Church, an organization which is clearly a “bona fide church or religious denomination.” George Wythe College is therefore exempt from the Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act.6

By letter dated September 13, 1993, the Utah State Board of Regents issued to George Wythe College a formal waiver of the regulatory requirements of the Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act pursuant to the above quoted exemption.

Therefore, a more precise answer to the question first asked is that George Wythe College is in compliance with Utah law on the question of degree granting authority by virtue of its affiliation with Coral Ridge Baptist Church, which affiliation entitles George Wythe College to an exemption from the Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act.

Unfortunately, the Board never asked me, the GW attorney who was tasked with the research and registration process, or those who had first-hand knowledge of our exemption-years dealings with the state, for clarification. The Board has sought, using rhetoric, extrapolation and consultation with regulators who, by their own admission, had no jurisdiction over the school during the time in question, to prove either that the exemption did not exist, or that it did not cover this-or-that. And with all our interactions and research, we have yet to find where they have ever asked anyone what the exemption actually did mean.

Even so, it’s hard to understand where the confusion lies on this subject. The Exhibits provided on the website are not particularly nuanced; the exemption from the Act is quite simply what Dr. Provost and Mr. Robbins explain: an exemption from the Act.

Transitions

When the college changed hands from Coral Ridge Baptist Church to ownership under George Wythe Foundation in late 2001*, it was then required to complete registration* as an institution governed by the Act. A representative of the Utah State Board of Regents was instrumental in reviewing our academic programs, completing a site visit, interviewing students and teachers, and making recommendations to ensure our successful transition and proper registration. His purpose was not to offer an endorsement of the college, but rather to ensure its compliance with the state regulations that governed its operations as it transitioned from exemption from the Act to regulation under the Act.

We recently reconnected with this individual, and he confirmed that a school operating under a religious exemption had the prerogative to run an alternative educational program that did not recur to the Act for guidance or regulation. He stated that the exemption clearly absented a school from obligation to anything in the Act. And again, he confirmed that as an “exempt” school, George Wythe College prior to 2002 was answerable only to itself to create its educational offerings, systems and standards, and that, apart from qualifying for exemption according to the specifications outlined in the code (being owned by a church), nothing else in the Act was relevant or applicable.

With the documentary history being so plain and with the advice of legal counsel and qualified experts to corroborate, it is unfortunate that the Board has expended such considerable energy and public relations capital in seeking to establish that the college’s operations, and my actions, were in violation of code from which we were exempt. It is tragic that the college’s students have been subjected to having their reputation, and that of their alma mater, called into question on this basis. It is this injustice that I am most concerned now with addressing, and I will touch on this more below.

Innovations

Because George Wythe College at its inception had as its educational model the subjective personalization of each degree program, students who attended during that period were informed that their GWC educational experiences could not be considered a guarantee of any privileges or credibility in the academic or professional world. They understood that the onus was on the individual student to represent his or her educational achievement.

We purposely eschewed the protocols and methods of mainstream academia, and sought to challenge every assumption about what made for a great educational experience. In many respects this served us very, very well. In others, we found that we were trying to re-invent the wheel, and we ultimately gained appreciation for some of the methods and protocols that lead to a smoother-running administration.

True, I was dismissive of protocols that I did not value (because I did not see their practical relevance to actual student learning), and on some things I later changed my tune. In many of cases where I sought to innovate rather than conform, I think the outcomes bore me out on those judgment calls. And our standards, requirements, budget, staffing and processes did increase and improve over time as we and the school grew.

But for a maverick institution starting from scratch, there was no guidebook, no seasoned trailblazer that could reliably counsel us on which systems and practices to dismiss, and which to hold sacred. We were making our own way, with only examples from history, the inspiration of academic and life mentors, and our own observations of results-based education to guide us. There were bumps in the road, and things that, with the benefit of hindsight, I would now do differently. That said, we committed our best efforts and honest intentions to promoting educational experiences that would lead to graduates who were empowered to apply their education in the world and make a difference for good.

2. Life Experience

As an unaccredited, non-traditional, exempt institution, there was no legal definition of what records must be kept, or how. We originally had no notion of credits being transferrable or degrees being accepted for graduate entrance, so our record keeping was almost exclusively for internal purposes. There were basically three types of credit recognized:

  1. Credit awarded for completion of coursework in a GW class (which could be on-campus or distance)
  2. Transfer credit for coursework done at another institution
  3. Credit awarded for what we called “Life Experience.”

George Wythe did not award academic credit for “life experience” in the sense of an applicant saying, “I experienced this in my life, and I want to give you money in exchange for academic credit” (i.e., a homemaker applying for academic credit for Consumer Finance, Early Childhood Education, First Aid, etc.). The Life Experience credit George Wythe recognized was for learning that could be evaluated through actual works produced and/or by some sort of direct examination.

Life Experience was a very broad term in the early days of George Wythe, and was awarded for such things as privately mentored studies, published works, documented internships, field experience, oral exams, interviews or other testing to determine skills/competency, documented projects including teaching, written summaries, entrepreneurial ventures, and so forth.

While this was not a common practice in modern academia at that time, it did not represent a lower standard than classroom instruction; in fact, in most cases, the actual learning was superior to the common classroom experience. The practice of evaluating actual knowledge and achievement (without regard for seat-time, or when/how the learning took place) was far ahead of its time in the early 1990s. It is interesting to note that leading educational theorists today are finally making inroads with the educational establishment to facilitate competency-based learning in high school and college-level programs.

Learning That Matters

At George Wythe College we placed an extremely high value on real-life application [7], and preference was given to projects with demonstrable societal impact. Basically: If you could show the value and level of your learning, we would consider assigning academic credit. And recall: We were answerable only to ourselves for establishing these protocols and systems.

In like fashion, graduate degrees in the early years did not typically culminate in a footnoted document citing others’ research, but most often in a rigorous project that could be shown to innovate, inform, impact or otherwise improve the area of study with real-life application.

Our emphasis was very much on “real-world projects over corner-stapled papers,” as our vision and mandate was to empower our graduates to make a difference in the world. We were very much aware that this was a departure from common practices, and this was deliberate and values-driven. We had the option of following such an ideal because, again: exempt.

This is not to say that, in the absence of outside regulation, we had no standards at all. We did; they simply weren’t based on mainstream or bureaucratic protocols. They were based on verifiable educational outcomes. Many, many were the times that I was offered a sum of money in order to grant academic credit, or a degree, but where the applicant couldn’t demonstrate the academic and real-world merit of their work (or no such work existed). Without exception such proposals were rejected.

By the same token, those who could demonstrate the educational merit of their work, whether it was in the classroom or in “real life,” whether before they came to us or during their tenure as a student, that work would be evaluated for credit. At George Wythe, the important thing was the education, not the arbitrary, controlled measures of “seat time” or “prior approval by faculty advisor.”

In my experience, the most valuable learning we ever achieve cannot be neatly quantified and predicted before the fact, and can actually suffer when it is boxed into a checklist. We avoided at all costs the kind of quantifiers that did not actually improve the student learning. This did not lend itself to a uniform style of record keeping. We were fortunate that we had the prerogative to pursue this process anyway, and “Life Experience” was a common label found on our internal student records for the first several years of the exemption period.

Revisions

The Board contended that, in addition to our allegedly violating the Act, student work should not have been accepted if it did not follow guidelines published by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), as adopted in 2010. George Wythe was never, at any time from 1992 until the present, obligated to administer NWCCU guidelines. To the contrary, the school during most of its time in operation published widely the ideal of following a different format that was not compatible with NWCCU. This maverick, alternative format was what attracted many of our students to attend George Wythe to study.

For the terminal Board to later repudiate student work – stating that it failed to meet guidelines that it expressly did not aspire to meet (and was not required by law to meet) – is a misrepresentation of the school, the students’ work, and our character, and in my opinion, breaches the contract GW made with the students when they paid their tuition under the non-NWCCU guidelines.

Again: I do not say that the Board didn’t have the prerogative to depart from past practices at George Wythe. But to apply new policies retroactively without informing affected students of the change or gaining their consent to revise their agreement ex post facto, to call certain practices “fraudulent” or “illegal” based on a standard that was not in force at the time – either ideologically, or legally – is unjust.

George Wythe students (particularly during the exempt years) followed a non-traditional model, to be sure; but their achievement was extraordinary.

3. Standardization of Transcripts

To our delight and (dare I say?) surprise, eventually GW students were successfully entering graduate programs and having their educational achievement acknowledged for updating graduate and/or professional education requirements, etc.

This was a relatively simple transition for many of the students in the “Honors” program [8] (as we called the on- campus liberal arts sequence), whose coursework was recorded in a more common fashion, semester by semester, class by class. But over the course of time, we found that our catch-all record keeping labels were inadequate to accurately reflect the student’s work for many of those who had been awarded credit under the heading “Life Experience.” We started reviewing the transcripts of each student in order to standardize them so that the actual work achieved by the student was reflected in language that would be understood by other institutions.

For example, if a student had been awarded “Life Experience” credit for studies, and I had personal knowledge that that credit included work in ancient scripture, or foreign language, or what-have-you, I might standardize the transcript by assigning course credit under the more specific subject area or course title for that work, or list a semester of study, in place of the previous, broad “Life Experience” label that was not specified on the earlier transcript.

As the principal mentor who worked with almost every student, and the senior full-time academic administrator during much of the time in question, I was the one qualified and responsible to create and update transcripts, and to assign course credit based on my personal knowledge and/or evaluation of the student’s application, work and studies. It was simply a process of standardizing the transcripts to more accurately and specifically reflect what the student actually learned, in a way that should have been done in the first place. The terminal Board suggested that this process was in some way dishonest. This is not the case. Student work was honestly evaluated and assigned credit, and a transcript was only ever modified to reflect their actual learning.

It must be understood that this was not a case of a student having done no work and then having a transcript created out of thin air by someone with no knowledge of their situation. This was a case of taking a transcript that was created honestly in the first place, but that lacked specificity – and standardizing it to fairly reflect student achievement in industry-understood terms.

The true failure on my part was that I was late to see the value in having a standardized reporting system that could conveniently interface with other schools, right from the beginning. For this I take full responsibility, and I apologize sincerely. The standardization of the inadequately detailed transcripts, while it was done completely in the open and with the assistance of many staff members over the course of many years, was totally my responsibility. It is not hard for me to put myself in the place of those who, with only a sound-bite version of the context and process, find it objectionable. No doubt much difficulty could have been avoided if I had had greater foresight on this topic and had handled things differently from the outset. My idealism, limitations and lack of experience came to bear; there is no other explanation for it.

It should be noted that no institution that I know of has ever complained that a GW student did not live up to the promise of their transcript. I simply did not award credit that they did not earn – period. To the contrary, notable community and educational leaders praised our program from the earliest years [9], and GW grads have distinguished themselves with honor and reflected favorably on their GW alma mater as they have attended many of the most prestigious schools in the world, and made their mark in virtually every facet of society. In fact, many of these same students make the point that their non-traditional experience at GW was of higher quality, and more rigorous, when compared to their prestigious and even Ivy-League graduate work, and was of great value in preparing them for their life’s work. [10]

To suggest that I was trying to cut corners, take advantage of students, or portray them in an unfairly positive light on their transcripts is bizarre and without basis.

The “Cleansing of Degrees”

And now, as I advocate for my students, my words may be a little more edgy. I hope I may be forgiven for taking something of a tone when I speak of the fallout the students have faced in the wake of this controversy; although I have suffered financially, in the decline of my physical health, and in ways that cannot be quantified, without question the impact on students has been the hardest aspect of this whole situation.

After 24 years in operation, I will grant that the Board had the prerogative to modify the school’s policies and practices to align more closely with mainstream academia; but to then claim that the students who worked under previous policies did so illegitimately—students whose work and achievements led to the stellar reputation the school enjoyed as a result—is not appropriate. Those students performed as agreed.

In an initiative it called “The Cleansing of Degrees,” the Board set out to retroactively apply a criterion of “acceptability” or “legitimacy” to review past student work. They set out to approve, revoke or revise (so that graduated students are now designated “incomplete”) degrees awarded decades ago. There existed no advocacy for the students in this process; there was no request for input from key mentors and/or administrators who possessed first-hand knowledge of the details of the students’ work; and—not least of all—there was no compelling reason to undertake the project in the first place.

This was an optional, unmandated purging required solely by the terminal Board as they moved toward their stated design to reincarnate the school under an altered form, a different philosophy, and another name, with themselves at the helm. Contrary to their private declarations to students, and to the public on their website, this was not in any way required, defined or governed by the State. We have personally confirmed this on several occasions, as have several individual students who raised their concerns about the Board’s “cleansing” to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

Using criteria that the school had neither the obligation nor the intention to follow is akin to officiating a 1995 football game using the 2016 rulebook for baseball. Nobody is saying that the 2016 rules for baseball are wrong; but to apply them to 1995 football is to misunderstand everything about the situation, and to unfairly penalize players and coaches who are actually in-bounds—and excelling—when they are evaluated in the context of the standards and outcomes they do aspire to meet.

The students – all of them – worked hard for the education they received, and to withdraw the school’s recognition of their agreed-upon and accepted work after decades of these students featuring their George Wythe studies on resumes for employment, graduate school, community service, political office and so forth will cause unquantifiable harm and considerable hardship to these students. The Board’s actions call into question the legitimacy and character of all students who claim George Wythe as their alma mater, harm the reputation of teachers and administrators who devoted their time and talents to its mission, and damage the credibility and honor of the institution as a whole.

I disagree with their assumption that the school needed conformity with common, “accepted” practices in order to claim legitimacy. In truth, I viewed conformity with the mainstream as a potential pitfall for the school – as it could leave us with nothing unique to offer, and could impede us from achieving our mission. My wife Rachel wrote elsewhere on this subject, as the school was moving toward its close:

“Of all the things I’ve read on the GW website that evoked a response from me, one thing in particular made me really, really sad. It is this: In rebuttal to the recent SL Tribune article, [they ] wrote that GWU is “far from unorthodox. In fact, it is actually quite orthodox.” (or something to that effect.) Oh, how I hope this is not true! …. In my estimation, orthodoxy demands certain benefits and perks which GW cannot provide: transferability, financial aid, access to government employment, degrees readily accepted and acknowledged by post-graduate schools, general mainstream credibility and recognition. These are not the stock in trade of GWU. What it HAS excelled in, what numerous [former students] have called, “the magic,” is a unique opportunity to achieve an education with meaning, relevance, rigor, and connection with one’s own higher purpose. That is rare, indeed, and I dare say “unorthodox.” It’s what kept our students coming back year after year, what had highly educated professionals seeking our continuing education offerings — without little or no recognized “professional” benefit. They came for the education. The real education. Not the tick-off-the-box, pre-packaged, empirically-tidy thing that passes for education in many catalogs or on web pages. It’s priceless, it’s hard to find, and somehow, some way, the mentors and classrooms at GW got it right a lot of the time.”

Advocacy

To return to the previous point on injustice: I believe that the advocacy of one’s alma mater is a contractual relationship, and all students of George Wythe, no matter when they attended, are impacted by this taint to GW’s reputation. As mentioned above, the Board cited, in their rationale, the imperative of doing so in order that “the school might be acquired by another institution.” While I am not indifferent to the appeal of such an acquisition, it was not the prerogative of the Board to revise and purge the school’s history for the convenience of such an acquisition. The agreements the institution already made with its clientele—students, faculty and donors—abridged its prerogatives in entering into other, later, contracts.

Many are the students who have expressed the hardship that the Board’s actions have placed on them—not just students who attended and/or graduated during the exempted years, but students from all years who have been humiliated by questions regarding the legitimacy of their GW studies, because of the institution’s own “official” declaration that students did not work for their credits, and GW students “paid for fraudulent credentials.”

To reiterate what I established above: the claims made by the Board regarding illegitimacy and fraud are based on the assertion that the school was operating in violation of an Act and an accrediting body that had no claim on its governance.

For all that one might hold the opinion that the alternative format was ill-advised, inferior, or caused obesity – it was not fraudulent, and it was not illegal. These terms in particular do not have subjective meanings, and are not a matter of opinion. To criticize the students who basically built George Wythe on this basis is just plain wrong.

It must be said: It is one thing for detractors of the college and its historical educational philosophy and model, who disagree with its agenda as an alternative-format institution, to post their critiques on the web. Such criticism is not only to be expected, but can spark healthy, dialectical discussion. But for the institution itself to promote a narrative that brands the school as fraudulent, illegal, etc., and its students as not having played fair – simply because they subscribed to the alternative philosophy on which GW was originally founded – does more damage than any commentary by online haters or trolls could ever hope to achieve.

In summary: For the Board to revoke any degree or disallow any credit awarded during the exemption years on the basis that it did not meet the requirements set forth in the Act or by NWCCU, is problematic, to say the least, and strikes me as something akin to a breach of contract and a slander of title against all alumni.

4. Shanon Brooks

The terminal Board also made a number of allegations against Shanon Brooks concerning his handling of the Monticello project and his leadership of the college. While I can endorse Shanon as an honorable man, I was very ill during the time in question, and did not have direct involvement in the administration of the college. He reported directly to the Board then, and I think the specifics are best addressed by people with first-hand knowledge11, who are men of integrity and have no personal stake in the controversies here. Their account of events, policies and procedures are contained in the Exhibits, and witness of Shanon’s invaluable contributions to the college and his actions in these specific matters.

Here is a brief excerpt from one of these letters, from Doug Free [11]:

I am a former Board Member of George Wythe College, and later of George Wythe Foundation. I had connection with GWC and GWF as a consultant, donor and board member from 1994 until 2009, when I retired from the Board.

I have no personal stake in the outcome of the dispute between the current leadership of George Wythe and its founders, and have maintained good relations with all parties involved. I sincerely hope that my contribution to the dialog may help bring resolution to the conflicts and mitigate fallout for the students who attended George Wythe– of whom my own son is one.

I affirm that I know Oliver DeMille to be a man of honor and good character, and it is my belief that the allegations of fraud and/or misconduct against him are made in error and ignorance. Whereas the claims the Board has made against Oliver DeMille have been strongly and credibly refuted elsewhere, I will focus my comments on the allegations made against Shanon Brooks.

…[details included in the body of the letter]…

I have not always agreed with Shanon, and have not always gotten along with Shanon. But I consider him an honorable man who has consistently put the mission of the school above his per sonal interests, and I must now publicly so state in order to discharge my duty as a former Board Member of George Wythe.

The specific allegations, and Doug’s responses, are included in the body of the letter linked on the website on the Exhibits page. Other letters by board members are also included.

Conclusion

Thank you so much for reading this far. I know that the issues we are addressing have touched many of you on a deeply personal level. I am reminded of the quip that says if you’ve never been misquoted, you haven’t said much; if you’ve never been criticized, you have yet to make your mark.

Please be assured that the mission we all hold dear does not end with the closing of this chapter. Not by a long shot. We are now turning the page toward a new beginning, and I look forward to connecting with you.

I am in the process of writing my Manifesto on Education, which codifies the things that worked – the things that made George Wythe unique and successful in attracting great students and facilitating their education to such great ends. We have other ideas that we hope to set in motion in the near future – ideas on how to spread the vision and mission of George Wythe even further. We hope you will be a part of this effort.

Pass It On

Please, please, please: Share this letter with others who would benefit from answers to these questions, who have a vested interest in the outcomes here and the reputation of George Wythe College. We hope this will reach many of GW’s alums, friends and supporters via personal contact–both directly from myself, and from one reader to another. The “RealGeorgeWythe.com” website we are utilizing was created several years ago by former students of mine and friends of the college in response to the criticism that was published by the GW Board in 2012. Please feel free to add your own student statement on the form provided to help flesh out the history of George Wythe College. This will build a living narrative that edifies and validates the mission of GW. Please also join the mailing list so we can keep you abreast of the goings-on of interest to friends of GW.

While we do not own or maintain this website, these friends and supporters have graciously allowed my wife Rachel (the techy one in the family) to publish supporting documents there and post commentaries according to her personal knowledge of the facts. Since she worked by my side throughout my time at George Wythe, and served as my liaison with the GW Board for many years during the time my health was a limiting factor, she is uniquely qualified to share these things with an eye for accuracy and fairness. She has spent literally hundreds of hours of work and research to find documents, interview individuals with first-hand knowledge, and prepare content to share these with interested inquirers.

We are still open to, and would humbly welcome, a productive correspondence with those who have strong disagreements with us. It is not our intention to make broad public statements for easy reposting, or to escalate into a more detailed and specific treatment of the breakdown of what (in light of our shared mission statement) should have been a very different process – unless additional responses from those on the other side of this issue demand that we respond more publicly, and with greater depth and detail. We no longer have any restraints against a vigorous response, and are fully prepared to offer it. Our commitment is to remain classy, civil, and always leave the door open for resolution.

I am convinced that there is much we still agree on, and everyone’s mutual interests will be best served as we celebrate the best efforts, intentions and achievements of those on all sides of this issue. Greater challenges still face our people and our nation, and I would have all of us as allies in meeting them.

No matter where you stand on the things I have shared, I do hope that all within the reach of these words will take pause and consider how their life, their choices, their gifts, their resources and their efforts might be applied to the cause of Building Statesmen:

Men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.

I commit to you that I will do all in my power to move that cause.

For Freedom, Oliver

OVD/rpd


Endnotes

  1. Exhibits, I: Letter from attorney Pete Lowe, dated 9/16/16
  2. Exhibits, II: “Fall1992, Spectrum article on founding, mission and organization
  3. Exhibits, II: “June 1993, Spectrum article on first graduation
  4. Exhibits, II: “June 1993, Graduation Program
  5. Exhibits, III: “Correspondence with the State of Utah and legal counsel to achieve correct registration and exemption status in 1993
  6. This letter is included in the Exhibits, III: “Registration under the Utah Post-Secondary Proprietary Schools Act in 2001
  7. Exhibits, IV: “GW 1995 Commencement Speech by Donald Sills” [PDF] [VIDEO (password: GWFriend)]
  8. Exhibits, IV: PDF or Video – “GW 1995 Commencement Speech by Oliver DeMille” [PDF] [VIDEO (password: GWFriend)]
  9. Letter from Justice William C. Goodloe, dated 1994
    Letter from Ambassador Philip Sanchez, dated 1994
  10. Exhibits V: Student Testimonials
    1. Erin Reynolds Mwanje
    2. Steven Adams
    3. Taylor Smith
    4. Shawn Crane
    5. Stevan Barfuss
    6. William Peavoy
    7. Bonnie Jones
  11.  Letters** from Board Members regarding Shanon Brooks

    **How were these statements prepared? Click here for more information >>

    Board Inter-Communications from 2007-2009

 

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