Please sign by 5 PM ET on Monday, February 19, 2018.
---Text of letter is as follows:---
February X, 2018
Dear Members of the Higher Learning Commission Board of Trustees: We, the undersigned elected officials, Midwestern community leaders, and national organizations call on the Higher Learning Commission to vote against accrediting Purdue’s Kaplan-run online university, NewU. Our reasons for concern about NewU are many. NewU is the result of a deal between Purdue and Kaplan that transfers a public university to the hands of a private corporation. The deal does not meet the basic standards of accountability and transparency that we as leaders have committed to uphold. And, most alarmingly, the deal between Purdue and Kaplan will cost students and the residents of Indiana the quality of their education. In terms of Purdue’s academic quality and rigor, critical elements of shared governance and academic freedom are at risk. NewU is a remote, online university run and developed by Kaplan, without faculty oversight. Faculty, who are experts in their field, will have no authority to engage in shared governance to direct NewU online academic programs, limiting their academic freedom to decide the best way to educate their students. Without shared governance, Purdue’s educational offerings and reputation will suffer. For Purdue faculty and staff, economic security will be non-existent. No tenure is offered for faculty. All NewU faculty and staff positions are offered as at-will employment, creating job insecurity and financial precarity. Most devastatingly for the state of Indiana, NewU jobs could be outsourced by Kaplan outside Indiana. Just like Purdue’s educational offerings and reputation, local Indiana economies will suffer. Unfortunately, opportunity for public and transparent discussion of NewU has been limited. We find this alarming considering NewU’s far-reaching impact in Indiana, not to mention the precedent it sets for privatization of public higher education nationwide. To date, one single public forum has been hosted by the Higher Learning Commission at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. This forum was announced less than 48-hours in advance. West Lafayette is located hundreds of miles from the Purdue Fort Wayne or Purdue Northwest campuses. In 2017, members of the Purdue faculty and the Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors requested an opportunity for an accessible online forum to discuss the deal with all Indiana stakeholders and the HLC Board of Trustees. Their request was denied by HLC President Barbara Gellman-Danley. As a public land-grant university, Purdue was established to put students first. Doing so requires a level of accountability and transparency that Kaplan and NewU cannot provide. NewU is established as a public-benefit corporation operated by Kaplan and is a postsecondary SEI affiliated educational institution, statutorily without accountability (IC 21-27-10-6) to the public. These exemptions were passed into law via House Bill 1001 from the 2017 legislative session. As reported by the Journal & Courier, the NewU public-benefit corporation “is exempt from Indiana open door laws (IC 5-14-1.5), access to public records laws (IC 5-14-3) and accounting for public funds codes (IC 5-11-1-9) – each on the books to offer basic public scrutiny that governs the state’s governmental bodies and universities, including Purdue.” As a result, NewU Board of Trustees meetings are not required to be open to the public, nor will they be subject to Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Lack of transparency and accountability become more concerning when reviewing Kaplan’s record of accountability to its students. Senators Dick Durbin and Sherrod Brown highlight this in their September 2017 letter cautioning Purdue University President Mitch Daniels: “Like nearly every major for-profit college, Kaplan has been the subject of numerous state and federal investigations and lawsuits. In 2014, the company reached a settlement with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to settle allegations that it made misleading marketing claims to Florida students. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey reached a settlement with Kaplan in 2015 related to inflated job placement numbers and unfair recruiting practices. Also in 2015, the company agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Justice more than $1 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit.” Seeking recourse against Kaplan for future wrongdoings will be difficult and costly for students and Indiana -- and in some cases potentially impossible. Again, Senators Durbin and Brown highlight in their letter that “Kaplan has adopted a practice known as mandatory arbitration…[forcing] students to give up their rights to sue or join a class action to hold a school accountable in a court of law when a school’s misconduct has caused the students harm.” Consistently, Kaplan demonstrates that students are not their first priority. Purdue faculty have met this proposal with strong resistance. In May 2017, the Purdue University Senate passed a resolution calling on Purdue to repeal its decision to acquire Kaplan. Also in 2017, the Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors launched a petition calling on the HLC to vote against the accreditation of NewU. Additionally, out of deep concern about the growing trend toward privatization of public higher education, the Faculty Senates of Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln have submitted letters of support. As of February 2018, students, faculty, elected officials, and leading progressive organizations have joined the resistance against this this proposal. We urge the Higher Learning Commission Board of Trustees to vote against accrediting NewU until these issues of transparency, accountability, student welfare, and academic quality are resolved. Sincerely, The Undersigned Elected Officials and Community Leaders