Purdue Grabs Kaplan: How Should Faculty Respond?


Guest blogger Rachel E. Hile is Associate Professor of English, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Secretary of the IPFW chapter of AAUP. She sent the following letter to members of the Purdue University Faculty Senate, who are meeting today to discuss the recently announced deal between Purdue and Kaplan University. For an earlier post on the purchase of Kaplan by Purdue by Bill Mullen (and one referenced below), go here.

Dear Purdue Faculty Senate,

I am writing to add my voice to that of my Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) colleague who wrote to you last night about his concerns with the Purdue-Kaplan deal to ask you to oppose it during your Senate meeting today.

I’ve been thinking about how groups are constrained by their missions and charges, whereas individuals can speak and act more broadly. So for example, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has a certain set of principles that it defends, and, as an organization, it has to limit its official responses to those principles. The Higher Learning Commission, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the U.S. Department of Education—the three organizations that must sign off on this deal (or not) by April 30, 2018—will all look at the situation through the lenses created by the mission and charge of each entity. I myself am a member of many groups that can justly have an opinion about the Kaplan deal—member of the IPFW faculty, member of the IPFW faculty Senate, secretary of the IPFW chapter of AAUP, mother of a Boilermaker entering the class of 2021 this fall, Indiana resident, U.S. citizen, human being—but because I am writing as an individual, I have the opportunity to write as a representative of that broadest group, to say why I oppose this deal as a compassionate human being, and ask you to use your power to take action to join me in opposing it today.

I believe that every group tasked with responding to this deal can find a reason to oppose it, because it’s a cynical bid to convert public money to corporate profits under the cloak of benevolently providing educational access. But the groups that will respond can go only as far as their mission allows. I am an individual telling you that Kaplan harms people and that your role as the Faculty Senate, as stated on your website, to “respect . . . human dignity, especially that of the less fortunate in the United States and around the world,” gives you the moral authority to reject a deal that allows Purdue’s name and reputation, which you built, to be used by a predatory for-profit company to harm people with greater impunity than they now can.

Bill Mullen identified both the cynicism and the harm in his column yesterday when he wrote “They boast to increase ‘access’ to a University whose academic name is not worth the paper it is printed on, and which seeks to prey on the most vulnerable of American society: the poor, working people, people of color, women, immigrants, people with disabilities, military veterans.” Kaplan students’ very high rate of loan default, Kaplan’s having several programs fail the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule, Kaplan’s being investigated by multiple states for deceptive business practices—all these result from Kaplan’s business model of profiting from federal student aid to provide students with low-quality credentials for which students are crippled with debt.

I’ve been teaching at IPFW for 11 years, and I know these students. I have seen how vulnerable first-generation students are and how much help they need. The first-generation college students who come to IPFW may not be savvier than the students who end up at Kaplan University—they may just have a little bit of extra freedom in their lives to allow them to seek a face-to-face degree. I have taught, advised, counseled these students, and they believe, correctly, that I care about them and have their best interests at heart when I help them navigate the overwhelming complexity of getting a degree. I see the way these students need me and therefore trust me, because they need me, and can imagine how easy it would be for a for-profit school like Kaplan to lead such a student into tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a credential that won’t actually help her to get a job.

Please don’t let Purdue’s name make it even easier for the most vulnerable Americans, who need high-quality education the most, to be duped. I hope you will take a strong stand today against the deal to acquire Kaplan, using all your power and authority as the Senate of a free faculty.

Wishing you all the best from Fort Wayne,

Rachel E. Hile

2 thoughts on “Purdue Grabs Kaplan: How Should Faculty Respond?

  1. I am the colleague Rachel mentioned in her statement, and I fully support what she said. I’m including the original email I sent to the Purdue Senate for reference purposes only:

    Hi all, my name is Steve Carr and I’m on the Faculty Senate at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne as well as President of the Fort Wayne AAUP chapter.

    I’m writing to you to express my concern regarding the upcoming Purdue-Kaplan Deal in advance of the Purdue Senate meeting tomorrow. Enough people have raised worries about this deal, beyond Bob Shireman’s piece in the Chronicle and which I’ve included below for reference, that would warrant the Purdue Senate introducing a resolution under New Business at tomorrow’s meeting.

    While it’s not at all my place to tell you what to do as a Purdue senator, and I can only speak for myself here, I would urge that the Senate consider introducing an item under New Business giving faculty on Senate an opportunity to provide input on this issue. I think it would be appropriate to introduce a Senate resolution expressing opposition to this deal, especially since faculty input was neither sought nor heeded through established channels of shared governance. However, if you can’t introduce such a resolution, or are unable to do so, then a more modest resolution might call for more time to study and review the Kaplan contract so that the Senate can better understand what otherwise appears to be getting rushed through. If the Purdue-Kaplan deal is as good as some claim, then it should be able to withstand a little sunlight and accountability before it goes into effect.

    As a faculty member in Fort Wayne, I can tell you that we witnessed first hand our share of governance issues. These cropped up on our campus with the recent elimination of programs, mostly in the Liberal Arts, because of how a few were trying to anticipate what they thought Purdue wanted. We are grateful for the support we received throughout that time from the Purdue and IU Senates, as well as from the Indiana Conference of the AAUP and AAUP National. More importantly, we are in a unique position to judge when a threat to shared governance is a threat to the entire state system of public universities. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear how this deal will affect regional comprehensive public institutions throughout Indiana. Nor is it clear how this deal will interface with our mission and the mission of the other regionals to serve many of the collective populations who seem to overlap with the populations that the Kaplan deal would target.

    Like the realignment process that occurred here, there are too many unanswered questions about the Purdue-Kaplan deal, and the manner in which this is getting rammed through recalls much of what happened a year ago when decisions to eliminate academic programs were taking place without meaningful faculty input. One thing I personally learned from all of this is the importance of vigilance in fighting for faculty rights to control the curriculum. As I understand the Kaplan deal, there is no provision for Purdue faculty to have any oversight over – let alone input on – a decision that will have tremendous implications for Purdue’s curriculum.

    Feel free to share this email with colleagues. I’ve included AAUP leadership at the state and national level, a few colleagues involved with shared governance structures at IPFW, and a subset of some on the Purdue Senate. I’ve left those emails visible in the header above so that you can determine who else you might contact if you have similar concerns and want to share those concerns with others.

    Finally, let me just say that I am not opposed to online education, nor am I even opposed to a carefully crafted public-private partnership that evidences collaboration with faculty and puts protections in place for shared governance and especially faculty control over the curriculum – and control over the introduction of new curriculum – at all Purdue campuses across the state. There are enough blank spots and fuzzy patches in the Kaplan deal, however, that should give you pause as it gets rammed through without any kind of meaningful faculty oversight.


    Steven Alan Carr
    Professor of Communication and
    Chapter President of the IPFW AAUP


  2. Several questions come to mind:
    a) what materials has Purdue filed with its accrediting authorities for their review and action on the merger and who has access to these, including faculty?

    b) What legal actions are open to the faculty to either slow or halt action on the proposed merger?

    c) What ability could the faculty have to shape the future should such a merger occur?

    d) Where does the faculty stand on issues such as adjuncts and at-will faculty, rights of graduate students and similar issues and what is the difference in the faculty to affect these issues compared with the proposed merger and the difference in the faculty’s willingness to take action?

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