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Administrative Actions that Jeopardized
the Legal Survival of GWU

 

As a matter of law, a number of actions by GWU Presidents Oliver DeMille and Shanon Brooks provided justification for closure of the school by state authorities.  Below is an explanation of the consequences, had these violations not been resolved through the intervention of the Board of Trustees beginning in 2009.  These notes are compiled from our work with law enforcement with jurisdiction over the school such as the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, the Board of Regents, the office of the Attorney General and the Florida Commission for Independent Education.

The Consequences of Exemption Violations

In Utah, all unaccredited colleges and universities are required to register with the state and operate under the authority and rules of the Postsecondary Proprietary Schools Act.  The purpose of this law is to preserve the integrity of academic degrees and hold institutions accountable until they achieve accreditation, and protect the public from misrepresentation, unqualified or fraudulent educational credentials, and financial loss to students.

During the 1990s, George Wythe College operated under a religious exemption from much of this law. This was allowed pursuant to Utah Code 53B-5-105 after having applied for exemption as Coral Ridge Baptist University operating under a DBA as George Wythe College.  This was permissible due to the school’s ownership by a church at the time, in this case one that existed in the state of Florida.  As one would expect, Florida’s own conditions for religious exemption were also in effect and required that the school must (1) only offer degrees for programs that prepare students for religious vocations and (2) offer clearly labeled religious degrees only.  Both requirements are detailed in Florida law in Section 1005.06(1)(f) and are also stated plainly in the application for exemption wherein the institution’s officials sign a sworn affidavit expressly to uphold these criteria as the main condition for the exemption.  Utah law concurs with Florida law on these requirements, and further requires that the institution abide by the state laws of its parent office.

During this period, DeMille violated the exemption in both states by awarding a number of degrees in non-religious fields that ranged from International Business (Mark Siljander) to Health Sciences (Ann Tracy).  In other cases, the administration created and attached non-religious “second majors” as a way to seek loopholes in the law, such as by awarding a BA in "Biblical Studies and Business Law."  In this manner DeMille granted degrees that were only nominally religious, but which in truth were primarily for non-religious coursework, or in the cases of second majors in Engineering Technology and Finance, non-religious and excessive awarding of transfer and life-experience credit respectively—and for majors not existing in the curriculum.  Each such act was a violation of the school’s religious exemption in both states.  A justifiable consequence to any one of these actions is that the school’s exemption automatically becomes legally void and the regular requirements of the law for the school to operate during that time period would instead be applied.  Left uncorrected, this would subject the school to numerous retroactive citations for violations during its first 10 years, as well as closure.

While we were designing our corrective plans in discussions with our authorizing agency, the Division of Consumer Protection, they informed us that if GWU had not aggressively conducted its own cleanup in recent years on its own initiative, but had instead waited for the Division to address these violations, the legal action by the Division would have been severe and extensive. This would have commenced in the form of an Initial Order of Revocation or citation as the first step of due process. The likely result would have been a Final Order of Revocation requiring the school to immediately cease all operations and, for offenses prior to 2002, surrender its certificate of exemption.  For pre-2002 violations, these actions could also be taken retroactively by the Utah Board of Regents, under whose jurisdiction the school was at the time.  In any of these cases, the state would apply the date of the first violation of the school’s religious exemption in order to retroactively revoke it from that point forward. With the religious exemption void, the standard law could then be applied, under which the school and the individuals responsible at the time could be cited for each instance of violation of codified standards and procedures surrounding each degree awarded thereafter, up until the date the school began operating under its non-religious registration.

Under either scenario, some of these violations rise to the level adjacent to felony classification as class A misdemeanors, the penalty for which can be up to a year in jail. Combined with the class B misdemeanors that comprise the rest, these could number in the hundreds.  Some of these violations would have occurred under the fraudulent credentials portion of the law.  The ensuing media circus chronicling this demise of the school would thereafter have sealed this legacy upon all GWU students and alumni.

Improperly Awarded Graduate Degrees

The Division also pointed out that even if the religious exemption were valid, whether in the current law or the statute of the 1990s, it does not exempt any circumstances involving fraud and fraudulent credentials, for which there is also no statute of limitations. Under Utah Code 53B-5-104, the Prohibited Acts and corresponding Administrative Rules include prohibitions against awarding degrees not listed in the course catalog (i.e., created and awarded without previously published requirements) and issuing degrees for life experience credit “lacking bona fide instruction,” such as discovered in the recently revoked degrees of Siljander and Tracy.  Meanwhile, the Division reviewed the records on file surrounding these revoked degrees and concurred with our conclusion that they were improperly and illegally awarded by DeMille.

Improperly Awarded Credit

Furthermore, the upper limit of life-experience credit legally allowed in the 1990s under Administrative Rule R765-171-4 was the same as it is today under R152-34-4, capping it to replace  “not more than one year’s worth of coursework” being equal to one fourth of a degree or 30 semester hours (45 quarter hours) and only permitted for undergraduate degrees.  Under DeMille and Brooks, 15.3% of degrees exceeded the lawful amount, in the most serious handful of cases by over triple the statutory limit.  [This only includes the investigation results known in 2013.  See the 2015 report for current numbers.]  All of these violations have required our attention for correction. The last of these degrees are now under review as we consult with the Division and other authorities in academic records management to complete the final steps of the school’s cleanup.

Financial Improprieties and Mismanagement
In addition to these legal offenses, the violations cited against the school in 2010 were the cumulative effect of widespread financial mismanagement for many years prior, culminating in the excessive resources that the administration had diverted to Monticello, Utah, despite the board having expressly approved only an “additional” campus at that location rather than it being the main campus.  State authorities and the Board of Trustees also discovered that the disorganized and incomplete bookkeeping maintained under DeMille and Brooks was beyond repair and failed to comply with the law under the Charitable Solicitations Act under Utah Code 13-22-12, which requires accountable and segregated financial record keeping as a condition of accepting donations.

Elsewhere in the state’s official criticisms against the school, the auditors referenced their examination of GWU credit card statements and further noted, “We reviewed bank statements including copies of cancelled checks. We determined that a significant number of payments were made for foreign travel by board members, officers, directors and their spouses.”  Among the items referenced were expenditures from a trip to the Cayman Islands by DeMille, Groft, Brooks, and their spouses in 2007. Personal and recreational expenses surrounding this and other incidents were noted as violations in the audit, along with $230,000 in unauthorized loans related to Monticello which the school has only recently been able to pay down.  All of this had to be dealt with by President Schulthies’ administration that followed, and is now a matter of public record with the state.

Finally, it’s important to recognize the critical timing of this cleanup work. The national media attacks in October 2012 based upon DeMille’s and Brooks’ former association with the school were inevitable.  We also confirmed that those media stories also drew the attention of a number of state authorities.  Normally, this would have prompted a new investigation.  It was only the fact that new leadership took the initiative four years ago in 2009, established transparency with the authorities in 2010, and placed the school on its self-corrective path that allowed it to stand on its own record.  This restores not only financial integrity, but the all-important integrity of academic records for the protection of alumni and students.  Consequently, the state has instead chosen to act in a supportive role to assist in our final remedy of these past problems.

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