What Has Changed at GWU?
If you’ve read the other feature article this month, you know that the best things at GWU remain the same. First among these is our mission of moving the cause of liberty. Second is our educational philosophy—immersing students in the classical liberal arts, simulations, good mentors, internships, and developing one’s moral compass. We also haven’t changed the basic curriculum, except to sharpen its focus more precisely on our mission. Furthermore, most of our faculty have been part of GWU for over a decade.
So what exactly has changed? Only the practices, habits and policies that were inconsistent with proper academic documentation, best business practices, and the law. Because on occasion we receive questions about these changes, we feel they are worth explaining in more detail.
Crisis and Cleanup
In late 2008, problems were discovered in GWU administration that needed immediate correction in order to keep the school from closing its doors. One of these steps was to change the administration in early 2009. As a matter of record, during 2010 state authorities cited GWU for legal offenses that were direct, cumulative consequences of specific practices by those prior administrations over the years. This legal action carried a justified mandate to close our doors that summer. Eighteen months earlier, however, the Board of Trustees had begun consulting with attorneys and elected officials to begin correcting the problems the school had inherited from those previous administrations. The violations were serious enough, however, that it was necessary to accelerate the cleanup and provide conclusive documentation and proof of its progress. To resolve this crisis, the Board and the new administration under President Schulthies exhausted nearly every resource during that summer to keep the authorities from shutting down the school. Among the greatest challenges we faced was convincing them that those earlier administrators were no longer in positions of leadership, nor had any lingering influence. Once a bright line of separation was clarified and the authorities were convinced of the school’s new trajectory, a new trust in George Wythe University was finally established with the state by the end of 2010, and the school was able to remain open.
As serious as the financial mismanagement was prior to 2009, an even graver situation was discovered that jeopardized not only the school’s survival, but the credibility of all GWU alumni. The existence of a handful of fraudulent credentials—specifically from illegitimate credits and degrees awarded—risked material injury to the academic reputation of every GWU student, past and present. The Board’s own investigation revealed that a number of laws were violated in this regard by earlier administrations, and consequently those degrees needed to be revoked. Other degrees with lesser violations required corrective action to bring them into compliance with the law. We reported these violations to the state authorities with jurisdiction over the school and consulted with them on solutions. The authorities shared our concerns and have been extraordinarily helpful. They also informed us that if we had not aggressively conducted our own cleanup of these academic violations, but had instead waited for the state to address them, then upon discovery at any time, they could have forcibly closed the school and filed criminal charges under the fraudulent credentials portion of the law. They also noted additional charges that could have been brought under other state laws.
The duty to preserve the integrity of transcripts and degrees is not only a legal matter, but a sacred trust that students place in their schools. Student reputations are on the line and the consequent harm can endure a lifetime. For having attended a college with publicized verifiable evidence of engaging in diploma mill activities, regardless of how long ago and isolated they may be, innocent GWU alumni have already faced sustained media attacks during their political campaigns as well as professional barriers and additional impediments to entering graduate schools. This goes far beyond any obstacle due to mere incompletion of the accreditation process—which by contrast is only transient. In fact, we know of alumni who have even removed GWU from their resumes due to these concerns. While a small minority of graduates may work in fields in which their academic credentials are irrelevant, this is not the case for the substantial number whose goals are to serve as public servants, professionally or in the non-profit sector—where credibility is in fact required. Understanding how negatively the closing of the school with such a tarnished reputation would affect our alumni and students convinced us that we must take action.
After four years, we are nearing the end of this path. Today the school has experienced a new birth in many ways, and not just by relocating to Salt Lake City. Based on the feedback we have received from alumni and GWU supporters, we have learned that many people had harbored concerns for quite some time over problems they sensed many years ago. Most have expressed relief over the corrections made. We are also aware that others will be bewildered by the Board’s cleanup and the strong position it has taken. We know that students themselves were often unaware of any administrative wrongdoing while they busily pursued their educations. To redeem the degrees of those hard-working students who did, in fact, diligently perform their studies, there is no other way to clear them but to make a bright distinction with the facts on record to state authorities and to the public.
As trustees, we are intimately aware of the shock this news presents and we grieve for all students, alumni and friends who now face, as we did, this heartbreaking disappointment in the leaders whom we trusted. The discovery of these problems has been deeply painful for each of us on the Board. None of us wanted it to be true, or to be as serious as it has been. We have grieved again and again as the depth of the problems increasingly became known to us over the last four years. We realize that many of our friends in the GWU community will likewise need time to process what has happened. It’s important to know that none of us would have ever taken these actions without being in full possession of the facts. We also recognize that in order to be comfortable with the corrections, all stakeholders in GWU will want to see such documentation for themselves. Consequently, we have made this information openly available. Anyone interested in learning more details is entirely welcome to contact us. For the integrity of the institution and the validity of its degrees, it is essential that we be nothing less than transparent.
As the GWU Board of Trustees, we are currently comprised mainly of alumni and spouses of alumni. We will forever be grateful for the education and inspiration we obtained at GWU. It has contributed much to who we are today. Because of this, we could not stand idly by and watch the school crumble from the weight of its past and potentially bring down every student and alumnus connected to it. We made a decision—a difficult one—to do what was necessary to reclaim and redeem our alma mater. We love George Wythe University. We love what it stands for, and we love the potential it has to inspire virtue and goodness and to move the cause of liberty. We also love our fellow alumni and their families. We know the hard work it takes to earn a GWU degree, and they deserve to have a viable and respected institution to service their degrees in perpetuity.
Proper and Proven Remedies
Today we work hand in hand with the state authorities who have helped us develop solutions for the final steps of our cleanup. We have done this at our own initiative to ensure that each step clears our students and the school, is correct, and is pre-approved. The authorities are fully aware of each remedy and improvement and their assistance and interest in protecting students alongside us is to be commended. As a resource for guidance and support, we count them as a tremendous blessing. Esteemed organizations in the classical liberal arts and academic records management have been consulted as well. This combined effort ensures that each step will continue to yield the proper outcome for redeeming the school and students while magnifying our mission.
Meanwhile, our October 2012 announcement that details our four-year administrative overhaul was carefully prepared and verified for accuracy over the course of that year. Its early release, due to the October media attack on the school as the election approached, was not the timing we had hoped for. We had planned to release the statement somewhat later in the year and free of such media distractions. Notwithstanding this, our revocation of improper degrees from the past is a vital step as we rectify academic accountability practices. This exonerates the vast majority of GWU graduates, who have worked hard and have legitimate and properly earned degrees. Doing so, while resettling in Salt Lake City, marks the renewal of GWU as an accountable, serious and respectable institution of learning that tolerates only the highest ethical standards. We invite all to read through our announcement so that they can be fully apprised of the facts of record.
For the cause of our mission and the good of our alumni and students, this corner eventually had to be turned. Diligence and integrity are always the right choice. GWU now stands on the right side of the law and at last has the full support of many fine and upstanding leaders in government, business and civil society who also love the mission, who cherish classical liberal arts education, and who want to see GWU finally rise up and help move the cause of liberty on a larger scale. Again, the best parts of our institution—the principles—remain unchanged. What has changed is that we can finally be at peace knowing that the credentials of our deserving alumni are safe and that our students have much brighter futures today. Doors that were previously closed are now open, new relationships are flourishing and our graduates can now advance to ever greater opportunities to pursue their missions and effectively move the cause of liberty.
Here you may read our official announcement detailing our transformation over the last four years. Additional FAQs have been added since October for clarity.
Here you may view the documentation of the GWU cleanup, including evidence and degree revocation files.
The George Wythe University Board of Trustees