The end of an era: George Wythe University finds a safe landing

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 23.30.59George Wythe University is a school that used to operate out of Cedar City, made claims of moving to Monticello and now has a Salt Lake City home. Although I was never a student there, we toyed with having our son attend – until he interviewed with Shanon Brooks and Oliver DeMille. We quickly realized he would not be considered a “cool kid,” the school was way more of a “good old boys club” than we were comfortable with and there were some academic questions we could not get answered.  We were also concerned at the cult-like adoration that both Brooks and DeMille not only welcomed but encouraged.

Turns out, we weren’t the only only ones to have misgivings. Several years later, the real story started emerging. There were financial improprieties (fraud, cronyism), the awarding of bogus degrees (thankfully just a few), unfulfilled (and unfulfillable) promises and a betrayal of trust under DeMille and Brooks.

Unfortunately, those two ruined what could have been a model for disruptive innovation in higher ed.

As the board uncovered more and more of what had actually been going on, they had the good sense to boot DeMille and Brooks and begin the long, slow, painful process of making things right.

Late last week, they announced that after years of clean-up, the end is in sight. George Wythe University will be acquired by another school by early next year with both extensive internal and external student record audits completed, a thorough cleansing of the problems created some 20 years ago and the promise of legislation to prevent this type of fraud from being perpetuated again.

For the majority of students – and faculty and staff – their time at George Wythe University was spent working hard to receive (and offer) a top-notch, in-depth liberal arts education. How unfair to them that greedy shysters tainted their degrees and ruined the reputation of the school, to the point that fundraising was impossible and it became clear that GWU would not survive in the long-term.

Therefore, the school had three options: Starvation, Closure or Acquisition. The school chose acquisition, the most common solution for colleges in distress. GWU needed to complete their audit and cleanup, and worked closely with the Division of Consumer Protection, which, as they explain on their website:

Allowed us to consult frequently on how to properly resolve all lingering degree and transcript problems. We approached them for assistance in 2012, and to our pleasant surprise, the Division took their mission of protecting the interests of the students as seriously as we did. They were nothing short of stellar in their ability to help come up with solutions. Every conversation during this new phase was positive, even heartening. Encouraged by the Division’s commitment to finding answers, we pressed on with new zeal for solving the most vexing problems once and for all. With a mutual interest in the welfare of our students, they became our ground-based control tower helping guide the school in for a safe landing.

One student, now in law school, had this to say upon hearing the news of GWU’s coming acquisition:

I’m a graduate from 2006. I just want to say thank you for all you are doing to make sure we are acquired by a reputable institution. I did work hard for my degree and since earning my degree I have watched and waited in anticipation for GWU to become accredited. Knowing this will now never happen but that my degree will be transferred to another institution actually brings me much peace. After my graduation I decided to do some research of my own about DeMille and was shocked by the things I found about him. Any removal from his name and his practices is a great thing in my opinion.

Although having a degree from GWU has not stopped me from progressing academically, I’m graduating from BYU in 2016 with my JD/MBA, I will be happy to put my GWU years to rest under an accredited institution.

Thank you again for all of your hard work and efforts in mine and other students behalf.

– Steve W, Class of 2006

Sometimes we are too jaded to see the good that can come out of rotten situations. The board and cleanup crew are to be commended for holding strong in the face of intense opposition from DeMille and Brooks supporters. They showed dedication to making things right. They also stuck by their commitment to be open, honest and transparent about the changes at GWU in a process that took about six years to reach a resolution. The Division of Consumer Protection worked hand-in-hand with George Wythe University to make progress and come to a final, clean terminus. The students and teachers who worked hard in spite of internal drama showed hope for a future that they are creating. Lessons learned and shared – even painful ones – bless all they touch. Rest in peace, George Wythe.

Comments

  1. Holly, thank you. This needs to be said!

    I have a half-written post I began over a year ago that began as a Facebook group conversation. After I presented some misgivings about TJEd and the whole controversy, DeMille’s wife started an apologetic debate. She took the debate to private messages that went on for some time.

    The fraud and corruption aside (haha), my biggest concern about TJEd is that it is, in the words of my friend, Julie Smith (no relation), “an impoverished pedagogy with dubious origins.” My post will be a full critique of the foundational 7 Keys. While they contain a few helpful elements, they are so logically flawed it is mind-boggling.

    While I feel for the students who were duped, I can’t give the same pass to the faculty. If they were truly educated enough to be sitting as university professors, they should have been able to do the academic analysis of the very basics of the educational theory being applied.

  2. Julie Earley says:

    Just to clarify – George Wythe was never a TJEd school. It’s simply a classical liberal arts college in the Great Books tradition, like several across the nation such as St. John’s, Thomas Aquinas, Shimer, and numerous honors programs at many colleges. By contrast, TJEd is just a method of homeschooling. GWU never had a program for children. TJEd also emerged later, mid-way through the school’s existence. While it was promoted at the school for a few years, that ended in 2009. It was alumni and faculty together who intervened to initiate the cleanup. The Great Books model should never be confused with TJEd. The Great Books approach can be found widely and in many forms, whether at George Wythe or elsewhere.

    Thanks Holly for getting this information out there!

  3. Tina Rawlins says:

    I wanted to put my two cents out there. I returned from a Mexico and was told by a public high school principle that i was not to be transferred into a high school as a sophomore in 1993 due to my extended absence. I chose an alternative charter school called Benjamin Franklin Academy. It was a half charter half home school option located in Mesa, AZ. The school went through a transition of ownership after a few years and was renamed I believe. The curriculum originally was authored mainly by Julie and Glenn Kimber. It was interesting but very history and constitutionally / politically conservative since that was Dr. Kimbers’ specialty. Julie seemed to me to have an early education background and the core or best education seemed to me to be in the younger classrooms. I am almost 40 years old and I recently ran into the Kimbers at a constitutional focused event. My impressions were the same as when I was a child. In fact I would submit that i regressed to back when I was 14 years old in the matter of minutes. The Kimbers’ are kind people but they are worn by the fight of justifying their own their cause of “one room school house – founding father education”. Slight feelings of cultishness and some moments of egocentric behaviors by management which I remember that I overlooked as a child as I had great empathy for their dream. I enjoyed the school from the efforts that I put into it but I then took a GED and ACT then worked for a few years. After speaking with friends of mine who were attending George Wythe, I ventured to Cedar City to try two semesters of college there. The list of majors were quite short and I remember feeling a sense of trepidation when speaking with Dr. DeMille. I sensed some hesitation and an energetic wall from Dr. DeMille. I felt sure he had a dream that was not meeting his expectations. Yet again, I decided to take a risk, I determined that I would support the dream of this gentleman and forked over the cash from my parents for those two semesters. By the end of the first semester I could tell that I would never win any popularity points in the group of conservative constitutional-ists. I found it very strange to be the most liberal person in a group of 40 students.

    My views were often unwelcome as I loved to share my middle of the road and sometimes liberal viewpoints. I enjoyed the friendly nature of the students but it was limited to greetings and never into a point of social nature. Half a dozen of the students I had known from the Benjamin Franklin days but that did not win any points in the crowd. I had liked the idea of reading 100 books from a list but found it was not implemented at all during my first year. I determined that the degree I would earn by continuing would not be feasible in the real world and I left. I eventually ended up getting a degree at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, AZ and found my calling as a marketer. I knew I had found my niche in helping support executives in marketing products and services. I have had a successful 10 years in advertising agencies and love working with companies to find success in online advertising. I still believe in taking risks and measuring the return on the investment then making adjustments as need be. This is evident in my education, my personal life, and my career. You can say.. my philosophy is nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  4. Thank you for sharing your opinion. I’m sorry you feel my blog is out to hurt people. It’s not. It is, however, a tool to share the truth that other people are either unwilling to see or unwilling to say. I stand by my comments in congratulating GWU for doing what needed to be done, in the face of name-calling, character assassination and even death threats as they tried to get to the bottom of the mess created by DeMille.