Why Inside Higher Ed Faces a Dubious Future

On January 19, David Halperin published a piece with the Huffington Post on the purchase of a controlling interest in Inside Higher Ed by the private-equity firm Quad Partners, which has invested heavily in for-profit colleges and educational consulting firms.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Halperin’s article:

“Quad Partners, a New York private equity firm that is invested heavily in the for-profit college industry, and whose founder has aggressively opposed regulation of that troubled industry, has acquired a controlling stake in the respected trade publication Inside Higher Ed (IHE), which often reports on for-profit colleges and the policy disputes surrounding them. There has been no public announcement, but the Quad Partners website now lists (http://www.quadpartners.com/portfolio/) Inside Higher Ed as one of its investments, among a range of education-related companies. . . .

“Doug Lederman, one of IHE‘s two top editors, confirmed to me that Quad purchased (http://www.kramerlevin.com/jmoriarty/) a majority interest in IHE in November.”

The full text of Halperin’s article is available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidhalperin/for-profit-college-invest_b_6471986.html

Fredrik deBoer is a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and composition at Purdue University. He has given me permission to re-publish a post to his personal blog [http://fredrikdeboer.com/] that he made on the Quad Partners’ purchase of a controlling interest in Inside Higher Ed. I think that he cogently and succinctly delineates the main concerns that everyone should have:

Via Gawker, a private equity firm that is massively invested in for-profit colleges has purchased a controlling stake in Inside Higher Ed, a publication that covers colleges and universities. That’s about as direct a conflict of interest as you can get.

“1. Inside Higher Ed should not be trusted as a source of legitimate news about for-profit colleges and universities any longer, and perhaps not trusted as a legitimate source of news, period. Treat anything published by it about for-profit colleges like PR or advertising, because that’s essentially what it’ll be.

“2. I’m willing to bet that this is going to happen a lot more often. The continuing financial troubles of journalism as an industry has to have industry licking its chops. We’re already seeing more and more fusion between for-profit entities and magazines, paper or digital—“advertorials,” “native content,” and various other weaselly terms I refuse to write without scare quotes. I have always found it profoundly insulting when people claim that the purpose of these ventures is not to fool readers into thinking that the copy they’re reading is like any other story; if so, why wouldn’t they then make them entirely visually different? If there’s no intent to confuse, then make them as visually and obviously distinct as possible. Well, now we’re going a step further. Rather than trying to get these publications to run your advertising in a way designed to confuse advertising for editorial, or to use your PR flacks to pressure them to give you favorable coverage, why not cut out the middle man and buy them outright? And as this happens more and more, people will be more and more inclined to simply call this standard operating procedure. Hey, everyone else is doing it! Why not us?”

Of course, the former and new primary owners of Inside Higher Ed are bending over backwards to reassure everyone that the change in ownership will have no effect of the publication’s editorial emphasis and content. But the conflicts of interest that Fredrik deBoer describes as possibilities seem very likely to become certainties given the background of Quad Partners founder Lincoln Frank.

In May 2012, David Haplerin wrote another article that focused on Frank. The article, “Aggressive Subprime College Industry Lobby Group Ratchets Down—For Now,” was published on the website Republic Report. The full text of the article is available at: http://www.republicreport.org/2012/subprime-lobbyists-giveup/#sthash.xl0Kjn0t.dpuf.

It turns out that Lincoln Frank has not just been an outspoken critic of regulation of for-profit colleges. With Avy Stein, the CEO of the Education Corporation of America, Frank co-founded the for-profit advocacy group, the Coalition for Educational Success (CES). Halperin’s article follows up on a piece that was published in The Hill, describing the massive decline in the CES’s lobbying expenditures from 2011 to 2012:

The Hill has just reported (http://thehill.com/business-alobbying/229669-for-profit-schoolcoalition-retreats-from-k-st-lobbyingcampaign) that the for-profit college advocacy group Coalition for Educational Success (CES) has now dramatically reduced spending on lobbying. Last year, the group spent more than $1.8 million on lobbyists, but in the first three months of 2012 its spending was down to $190,000. That’s still a considerable amount, but CES terminated its contracts with several outside lobby firms.”

In retrospect, it seem clear that the CES anticipated the negative attention to the for-profit industry that was almost certain to accompany and follow the release of the Harkin Report on for-profit colleges and universities. In that context, expending large sums on lobbying would have been foolhardy.

Moreover, given the very substantial investment that Quad Partners has just made in Inside Higher Ed, one cannot help but think that the leadership of the CES came to the conclusion that it might be much cheaper and more effective to counter the criticism of the for-profit industry by purchasing a controlling share of one of the leading higher-education publications than by directing those monies toward lobbying.

But even if Frank did not have the connection to the CES, this change in ownership would be very problematic for Inside Higher Ed. Over its history, Inside Higher Ed has made considerable efforts to provide independent and credible coverage of issues in higher education. Indeed, it has acquired sufficient stature to cover all sectors of higher education, from community and technical colleges to top-tier doctoral institutions, with equal credibility.

But a quick survey of the other current holdings of Quad Partners suggests that the publication’s stature has already taken a major hit just by its new associations:

Beckfield

Blue Cliff College

Dorsey

ILSC

Learning Experience

Noel Levitz

Pacific C of Oriental Medicine

Ruffalo Cody

Stratford

Swedish Institute

TargetX

Trillium College

And here is an advertisement for Trillium College:

Trillium College Ad

10 thoughts on “Why Inside Higher Ed Faces a Dubious Future

  1. Inside Higher Ed staff regularly monitor all comments and only permit those whose content they approve of to appear on a blog site. Several prominent union democracy advocates, for example, have informed me that they appear to be banned from the publication, finding their comments removed for no other reason than censorship of their ideas.

    Further, the editors have “friends” in higher education whom they favor in the reporting: for example, AAUP was spared any coverage of the national elections re-run by the US Department of Labor. Such censorship of the news was apparently “purchased” by AAUP leaders through their invitation to one or more of the editors to appear on AAUP conference panels.

    So all that will happen at IHE is that the circle of the editors’ “friends” will change, but the “paper” will continue to be run in the same subjective manner it always has been.

    • This is a disturbing development, especially because InsideHigherEd should have reported on it. The notion that the AAUP “purchased” censorship of news about it by inviting someone to speak on a panel is absurd, as is the belief that InsideHigherEd would ever do that. And InsideHigherEd did report on the re-run of AAUP elections, which you might have recalled because they also posted your comment on it: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/02/26/aaup

  2. Addendum: The Huffington Post article linked above cites IHE Co-Editor Lederman thus: He says IHE will go on as before: “The proof will be in what we publish.”

    This commenter would add that the history of what IHE does _not_ publish is equally important proof of its subjectivity, as noted in the comment above. Further, evidence from the Huff Post article: In an interview, Inside Higher Ed co-founder and editor Scott Jaschik said, “In hindsight, I wish we had,” publicly announced Quad’s purchase, “because clearly this is of interest to people.”

    And lest the reader imagine that The Chronicle of Higher Education is immune to such editorial pandering — and, of course, comment censorship — the article asserts: “In addition to using campaign contributions to acquire friendships with Members of Congress, and donations to curry favor with policy think-tanks and advocacy groups, the for-profit college industry has purchased ties to the news media. For example, in 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education, IHE’s older rival, allowed Career Education Corp., a giant for-profit college company with a high student loan default rate, not only to sponsor a Chronicle-hosted event on loan defaults but to select all the speakers.”

    • Yes, as the article points out: only after the facts were “outed” by the HuffPost. A prime example of what IHE did _not_ publish, until forced to by the court of public opinion.

  3. In response to John Wilson’s posting above on IHE and coverage of the AAUP:

    The 2010 re-run of the Assembly of State Conferences Chair position was the only re-run election which was covered by IHE. There were five re-run elections mandated by the US Department of Labor: that re-run election, a second re-run of a subsequent ASC Chair election, two NYS Conference annual elections re-runs, and a re-run of an entire National Council election cycle of AAUP.

    Scott Jaschik’s invitations to speak at AAUP annual meeting panels occurred subsequent to the first re-run election cited by the above commenter. That’s a lot of news that just didn’t “happen” to make it into the IHE after that — and one would assume that an entire national AAUP election re-run would be of even more interest than that of a single officer election of an intermediate body of the organization. In point of fact, the state conference election re-runs were equally important because it proved that the AAUP state conferences that have even a single private union chapter are subject to the LMRDA.

    The most recent subsequent re-runs which were not covered by IHE:

    “Voluntary Agreement for New Election for the AAUP National Union
    In January 2012, OLMS entered into a voluntary compliance agreement with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington, D.C., concerning its election of officers completed in April 2011. The OLMS investigation concluded that there was a lack of secrecy because the balloting agent could determine how members voted, a person who was no longer a member was a candidate, the nomination notice for one position was not distributed to all members, some members were denied the right to vote, and the union failed to provide adequate safeguards when employers and AAUP employees had access to some members’ voting credentials. The union agreed to conduct new nominations and a new election for the ASC Chair and new nominations, if needed, and a new election for three at-large council members and District 1 through 10 council members under OLMS supervision. Ballots were sent to the more than 33,000 members in March 2012 and the election was successfully completed when the returned ballots were tallied in April 2012 under OLMS supervision.

    “AAUP – NYSC Enters into a Voluntary Agreement with OLMS
    In January 2012, OLMS entered into a voluntary compliance agreement with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) New York State Conference (NYSC) in Syracuse, New York, concerning its election of officers completed in April 2011. The OLMS investigation concluded that the union: failed to provide adequate safeguards when some employers had access to some members’ voting credentials; failed to provide proper notice of election; failed to conduct the election by secret ballot; denied some members the right to vote; and failed to provide adequate safeguards to ensure a fair election in that the accuracy of the vote tally could not be confirmed. The supervised election was conducted in April 2012 by mail ballot.” p. 7 at http://www.dol.gov/olms/regs/compliance/annualreports/highlights_12.pdf

    The only thing that is “absurd” is that AAUP leaders refused to democratize the elections after that first re-run, necessitating additional election challenges and DOL-supervised election re-runs — none of which were covered by IHE once its editor “coincidentally” became an AAUP conference panel member for more than one year in a row.

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