BY RACHEL E. HILE
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