People Who Need People

Recent efforts to try online education have shown that [weaker] students are the ones who most need a teacher or professor in the classroom to help them, said [Janet] Napolitano…

The president of the University of California says the obvious: In almost any form, online ed ain’t much good. It’s especially pointless (and expensive) for the people the for-profit tax syphons go after most aggressively: Those most in need of a good in-person education. Our most vulnerable, most badly-served, remedial students.

But Napolitano goes beyond this.

The courses are also proving difficult for those trying to meet lower-division college requirements. Online courses may indeed prove to be useful, she said, but more as a way to augment upper-division work for students who are already deeply engaged in their subject matter.

And franchement, if you’re deeply engaged in a subject, you’ll just feel insulted by the online treatment. By definition there’s no intensity, so real interaction, no subtlety, available in this format. That’s why in many courses almost everyone drops out:

[A] study released late last year by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education showed that only about 4 percent of those who register for an online course at Penn complete it, even though the courses are free.

Even in the context of spectacularly corrupt Illinois…

… Chicago State University, bankrolled almost exclusively by taxpayers (it has vanishingly few students, and is losing them at a rate of about 20% a year, so it’s certainly not getting much in tuition), stands out. I guess it stands out because it’s a university, and most of us continue to assume that universities have more dignity or whatever than other public institutions.

It may be because of this moral/emotional over-investment of ours that a Chicago judge and jury have recently come down so very hard on outrageously corrupt and inept CSU. As Jodi Cohen reports, having found in favor of a whistle blower –

[James Crowley was] awarded $2 million in punitive damages and $480,000 in back pay after a jury decided last month that he was fired in retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct by university president Wayne Watson and other top officials.

– the judge has now decided to increase Crowley’s award.

Circuit Court Judge James McCarthy decided to double Crowley’s back pay, as allowed under state law. Crowley had been earning $120,000 a year when he was fired. McCarthy also Tuesday ordered Chicago State to pay $60,000 in interest on the back pay. That brings the total payout to just more than $3 million.

The judge will rule following a hearing set for May on whether Chicago State should also pay Crowley’s attorney’s fees, and on terms of reemployment.

“It is quite clear from the verdict that Mr. Crowley is to be given his employment back,” the judge said.

The term slam dunk comes to mind. The sentence Someone is really really pissed. comes to mind.

Yet why (as UD has asked more than once before on this blog) does CSU exist? Why has it not been folded into another university? Why has it not been shut down? CSU is as much of a scandalous tax syphon as any for-profit school-for-scandal.

How Awkward for Berkeley. How Awkward for Senator Feinstein.

And how tragic for America. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in filing suit today against one of the country’s many tax syphons (put the phrase tax syphons in my search function for previous posts), calls the exploitation of America’s poor by for-profit colleges like ITT “truly an American tragedy.”

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this morning filed a civil lawsuit against for-profit college company ITT Educational Services, seeking restitution to students allegedly harmed by ITT’s private loan programs, a civil fine, and an injunction against the company.

Senator Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, has been a big investor in ITT. Which is… Okay, that’s her business, you might say, though UD would say that it represents at least an embarrassment … But the real scandal here comes from the fact that Blum is a University of California regent who presumably had something to do with that university itself investing in ITT. From a 2010 article in the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Blum’s firm, Blum Capital Partners, has been the dominant shareholder in two of the nation’s largest for-profit universities, Career Education Corporation and ITT Educational Services, Inc. The San Francisco-based firm’s combined holdings in the two chain schools is currently $923 million — nearly a billion dollars. As Blum’s ownership stake enlarged, UC investment managers shadowed him, ultimately investing $53 million of public funds into the two educational corporations.

The regents’ conflict-of-interest policy requires them to “avoid the potential for and the appearance of conflicts of interest with respect to the selection of individual investments … public officials shall not make, participate in making, or influence a governmental decision in which the official has a conflict of interest.” And the California Political Reform Act of 1974 provides civil and criminal penalties for officials who ignore conflicts of interest — as UC makes clear in ethics training presentations specifically created for university officials. The Board of Regents, however, is self-policing and it tolerates situations that cause others concern.

John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization in Santa Monica, California, comments: “It is hugely inappropriate for the University of California to invest in for-profit colleges when it should be promoting public education. And something stinks when university investments end up in companies largely controlled by a regent. To the average fellow on the street, this would seem to be a conflict of interest. It is up to Mr. Blum and the UC treasurer to explain how it could not be a conflict of interest.”

Shades of Yeshiva University under the management of Bernie Madoff and Ezra Merkin! … Well, that university investment strategy ended badly, and I think Berkeley’s is about to come to grief too… But … look. You don’t need to be Thomas Frank to be sickened by the cynicism of America’s greatest public university getting rich off the backs of America’s most vulnerable student population…

Especially since it’s not only Berkeley. There’s Columbia University, already famous for its business dean’s starring performance in Inside Job. Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, sits on the board of the company that owns Kaplan. Students there were so disgusted by this that they started a petition calling for him to leave the board. The language of their petition pithily summarized the American for-profit ed business model:

Kaplan exploits the poor, the vulnerable, and the taxpayer to enrich itself.

In announcing the suit, the CFPB said this was just the beginning of a much wider action against the whole scummy industry. UD is skeptical. It has been scummy — reeking to high heaven, in fact – for a couple of decades, and no one with any power to really kill it off seems to have cared. That’s the American tragedy.

“The industry fundamentals have deteriorated.”

What – you mean like this? You mean the raiders of the lost American college student are beginning to deteriorate?

You mean – like this?

You cursed wave of state probes by attorneys general and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau! Look what you’ve done to my Goldman Sachs-backed tax-syphoning scheme! I’m melting! I’m melting! What a world! Who would have thought that a good little government like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness…

Chicago State University, America’s Very Own Academic North Korea….

… once again cracks the whip. You recall its directive to faculty last year:

In an email sent March 22 to faculty and staff, Sabrina Land, the university’s director of marketing and communications, wrote that all communications must be “strategically deployed” in a way that “safeguards the reputation, work product and ultimately, the students, of CSU.”

The policy applies to media interviews, opinion pieces, newsletters, social media and other types of communications, stating that they must be approved by the university’s division of public relations. “All disclosures to the media will be communicated by an authorized CSU media relations officer or designate,” the policy says.

Failure to follow the rules “will be treated as serious and will result in disciplinary action, possible termination and could give rise to civil and/or criminal liability on the part of the employee.”

And they meant it, baby. Chicago State has a 10% graduation rate, and much else besides, to protect; and now you’ve got some faculty undermining the peace-loving progressive masses of CSU by starting a blog!

A blog written by Chicago State University faculty members that has been critical of the school’s administration was sent a “cease and desist” notice by university lawyers …

[CSU] said the blog “violates the University’s values and policies requiring civility and professionalism of all University faculty members.”

Cage demanded that site administrators “immediately disable” the blog and provide written confirmation of that no later than Friday to “avoid legal action.”

UD trusts free speech advocates are all over this one. I’d say it’s an outrage, but everything about CSU is outrageous and it still syphons huge tax dollars from the poor citizens of Illinois. So it’s wasted breath.


Scott Jaschik takes note.

Corporate creep…

… happens all over the American university, of course; but some forms destroy the institution and some just cheapen it. I think Derek Bok is right that when for-profit businesses start providing instructors for non-profit universities’ online courses, it’s extremely destructive:

[Northeastern University’s online] instructors mostly do come from “the Northeastern family,” [a campus representative] says, meaning people familiar to the university because they are alumni or have taught the course before as lecturers. But on “one or two occasions,” …the university has needed someone, “and Embanet has provided an instructor for us.”

… Mr. Bok sees a “dangerous trend.” Even though campus officials insist that they control hiring decisions, he doubts that a college would veto a company’s recommendation in a situation in which students were waiting for a class, and time to find a teaching assistant was limited. Mr. Bok emphasizes that he is speaking generally, not about any particular institution. But as a matter of principle, he says, “you have crossed the line” by using a private company to recommend teaching assistants.

“You have now delegated an essential academic function, which is choosing who will assist in the teaching function, to a company,” he says. “You could say it’s not very important. But of course, the way principles break down is because the first thing is not very important.”

Similarly, when pharmaceutical companies, through subcontracted ghostwriting firms, write scientific articles for university professors (articles touting their pills), it’s extremely destructive. It goes on quite a bit – as does corporations running university courses – and it’s extremely destructive.

We find out about it when the lawsuits start happening: When students sue schools on the basis of fraud (as they have for some time been suing the tax-syphon for-profit ed providers), and when the government sues yet another corrupt pharma outfit, as it has most recently successfully sued Johnson & Johnson, we see how the deal works, how universities in search of revenue hand over their academic functions to corporations.

In the Johnson and Johnson matter

the case file includes a list of academic researchers who wrote articles for medical journals that the company allegedly used to overstate the benefits and understate the risks of a blockbuster drug…

A primary investigation underlying the case identified 44 articles written by university scientists and colleagues, many of them joint collaborations that included Johnson & Johnson researchers, described as being overseen in some manner by the company.

Yes, let’s do it together! Let’s run the class together; let’s write the article together. After all, we’re both motivated by the same thing: Pure pedagogical or scientific integrity…

UD was warmed to see the name of Joseph Biederman, a man who has arguably done more than anyone to make the world safe for baby Risperdal, among the university scientists working, er, hand in glove, with Johnson & Johnson.

Some university authors — including Joseph Biederman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard who gained renown for collecting at least $1.6-million in consulting fees from drug makers …appeared to be more personally aware than others of their misrepresentations…

Dr. Biederman, through a lawyer, declined to comment on his work with Risperdal.

Johnson & Johnson will pay a pittance – 2.2 billion – in penalties for having illegally marketed Risperdal. Joe will keep his trap shut and stay at Bok’s Harvard. All quiet on the western front.

Gawker Gawks at the Collapse of the For-Profit College Scam…

and so does UD. As Phoenix falls from its ashes, and as even scuzzier outfits make their way through the courts, it truly begins to look as though Americans have figured out how the tax-syphons work, and refused to play along.

“I’m not at all opposed to the open-sourced courses,” said Wendy Brown, a UC Berkeley political-science professor who has criticized the university’s approach to online education. “The experiments need to happen to develop these technologies.”

As Berkeley makes its own MOOC moves, this distinction is crucial: Free, open-sourced MOOCS are a public service, an investigation into certain technologies, a way of broadcasting your university’s name to the world, a democratizing gesture. Monetized credit-bearing online courses have impossibly high rates of cheating, are often cheaply done and poorly staffed, with one (frequently part-time) faculty drudge (I call these people air traffic controllers) responsible for hundreds of students, etc. They are hard to distinguish from the tax-syphoning, for-profit, shames-of-a-nation. (Scroll down.)

Faculty leaders have cautioned the university against moving too quickly with the online courses. The UC Academic Senate has said it worries about the quality and finances of the UC Online project.

In contrast, some of those most concerned about UC’s plans say they support free projects like Coursera and edX.

They never learn.

And why don’t they ever learn?

Because they don’t care.

After all, it’s only your tax money.


You’d think that just one person at NASA might do a quick check of the universities from which their employees graduate, and the kinds of degrees they’re earning. After all, NASA pays their tuition.

The Office of the Inspector General has found that NASA misused $1.4 million in tax money by reimbursing dozens of its employees who pursued degrees outside NASA’s established programs at for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix (the subject of an ABC News 2010 investigation) and Strayer University.

Now notice the non-reimbursable schools. They’re not diploma mills; they’re our old friends the scandalous tax-syphoning for-profits… So … Écoute: The beauty here is that you, the American taxpayer, are getting your ass whipped in two different ways:

1.) Your taxes pay tuition for the aggressively recruited flunkies at the for-profits;

2.) and your taxes pay for the compensation federal employees (like the NASA people) receive for illegitimately attending (not really attending, of course; everything’s online) the same for-profits.

[B]ecause this $1.4 million represents tuition payments for only a sample of employees at the four Centers and Headquarters where we conducted detailed audit work, we concluded that an examination across all NASA Centers likely would result in substantially higher questioned costs.

This is from the NASA Office of Inspector General. Great to know there are probably lots more cases.

The OIG found that 11 of the top 20 universities NASA employees attended were private or for-profit institutions that are on average 3.6 times and 1.6 times, respectively, more expensive than public universities.

So much for the argument that the for-profits make college affordable for poorer people. Of course you knew already – didn’t you? – that for-profits are extremely expensive? I mean, why wouldn’t they be? It’s only your tax money.


You think this will change? This won’t change.


Don’t enough people in this country hate the federal government? I guess not.

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