Monday, June 12, 2017


Harry Targ

As you've heard, Purdue President Mitch Daniels has announced plans to create a new, Purdue-affiliated institution to address the needs of adult learners. To do this, Purdue will acquire Kaplan University, which has extensive experience in online learning.

I’d like to ask for your input as we think about how to develop the name and identity of this new institution. (An e-mail from the Senior Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning sent to the faculty on June 9, 2017, requesting completion of a survey by June 13, 2017).

Recent History

On Thursday, April 27, 2017,  President Mitch Daniels, Purdue University, announced to the university community a dramatic new program that he and the Board of Trustees had been fashioning in secret for months. Purdue University, a self-proclaimed world class university, would be acquiring Kaplan University, one of several controversial for-profit on-line universities that have emerged over the last twenty years.

The campus community was stunned by the announcement which it learned about through a hastily called special meeting Daniels assembled with selected faculty and an e-mail announcement to the faculty.  One week later, Daniels defended the secret deal before a special meeting of the University Senate. He criticized those who had written about complaints and lawsuits by former Kaplan students who paid enormous tuitions and upon graduation were not able to secure the jobs Kaplan advertising had claimed they would obtain. He also proclaimed that the Purdue/Kaplan connection would serve the millions of non-traditional students in the United States who now would be able to get on-line college degrees.

Among the concerns registered by Purdue faculty were whether professors would have input on educational policy matters concerning degrees granted by the new Purdue/Kaplan partnership. Faculty raised questions regarding the academic integrity of entire degrees offered on-line. Many more questions involved staffing, tenure and promotion, admissions, state expenditures, and the bypassing of the state’s technical and community colleges, and regional campuses. Virtually no answers were given to these questions and the administration has proceeded to seek official approval from a politically-appointed state higher education oversight board. Meanwhile President Daniels claimed that the Purdue/Kaplan venture will cost Purdue nothing, no tax dollars would be used, and the collaboration might bring in profits from the online venture.

The dramatic developments at Purdue University highlight a number of issues that bear upon the mission and purpose of Purdue, a land grant university. The state chapter of The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) expressed many of the concerns faculty and others raised about the new arrangement with Kaplan:
The Indiana Conference of the AAUP objects strenuously to the recently announced Purdue/Kaplan deal, on the following grounds:

1. No faculty input was sought before this decision was made.
2. No assessment of the impact on the academic quality of Purdue was made
3. No transparency was demonstrated in this process.
4. Faculty governance at what will become the “New University” is practically non-existent.
5. Non-profit institutions serve the public good; for-profit private institutions serve corporate interests. The two should not mix.
The AAUP maintains that: "institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition."

Defining the New University: Soliciting Faculty Input After the Decision Was Made
In the midst of lingering questions about the connections between Purdue and Kaplan Universities and growing skepticism about the impending relationship, articles have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and elsewhere about Kaplan’s failure to meet the needs of and promises to students. And with an almost total lack of transparency by the Daniels Administration, the faculty is now being asked to identify the special characteristics Purdue can offer this new, as yet ill-defined entity.

A memo was sent to faculty asking their input, not on the arrangement as it has been announced but how to characterize this entity that has never been clearly defined. A three-day window of opportunity to respond was given, again with little or no clarity on what the new academic venture is likely to be. The survey was sent by e-mail to faculty on June 9 (when most faculty were not on campus because of the summer break) with a title, “Purdue Stakeholders Survey, Trade Secret Information, Advisory and Deliberative.”

The survey had eleven questions. The first three asked about the respondent’s location in the university system, her/his college, and length of employment at the university. The substantive input solicited of “stakeholders” began with the fourth question: provide a series of phrases the respondent feels address the value a Purdue/Kaplan education will have for adult learners. Question five asked the respondent to identify a key word from a list of eight that represents the most important task of the new university; such as developing leadership skills, lifetime learning, good citizenship, or access to knowledge.
The questionnaire then briefly asked for the respondent’s degree of support for the new venture including whether the announced arrangement is consistent with Purdue’s land-grant mission and how the connection with the land grant mission can be achieved. The questionnaire asked if the time was right for this venture and what opportunities does Purdue provide for achieving the mission as it was described. It ended with a question about which goals should be uppermost in Purdue’s Kaplan partnership.

The criticisms that have been raised throughout the university community and around the state and nation, have never been addressed. In fact, the specific questionnaire, allowing little room for evaluation of the plan (two questions) presents the Purdue/Kaplan arrangement as already completed. What remains utterly bizarre is that the “stakeholders” questionnaire makes it clear that the Purdue/Kaplan arrangement is a “done deal” but the stakeholders now are being asked what the new university should do, what should be criteria for success, and how it should be “branded” in upcoming public relations announcements.
The only laudable part of the mysterious public discussion of the Purdue venture with an on-line for-profit university with a questionable past is the declaration by the university president that Purdue wants to serve non-traditional students; workers, parents, low-income wage earners, and older persons who want feasible access to education. However, a public discussion of the multiplicity of ways such a goal could be achieved has never taken place. Indiana has branch campuses of its two flag-ship universities; a technical college system; community colleges; existing on-campus and off-campus educational programs, credit and non-credit, in agricultural extension and labor studies. And various colleges and departments at Purdue University offer varying online educational experiences. None of this has been discussed by faculty, students, alums, state legislators, or other citizens of the state of Indiana. (In fact, the Indiana state legislature inserted a provision in an unrelated bill that precludes citizens from inquiring about deliberations concerning Purdue and Kaplan Universities. In other words, while all other public institutions in the state are subject to public scrutiny, the Purdue/Kaplan agreement is not).

In addition, there has been no discussion of the efficacy of on-line education; the appropriate mix of computer-based and on-site education and what subjects would lend themselves to various pedagogies. And since the arrangement was announced there has been no public discussion of whether non-traditional students have access to computers and the internet.
Finally, there has been no discussion of whether the land grant mission of public universities can be fulfilled by for-profit universities. Traditionally public universities have been assigned the task of educating the citizenry for the public good. The survey of “stakeholders” is designed to illicit information about “branding,” or how to sell the Purdue/Kaplan deal to a potentially interested public. That is not about the public good.