Turkey-Based Schools in U.S. Continue to Attract Negative Attention

By David North on January 20, 2019

Maybe the Algerians, or the Belgians, or even the laid-back Canadians are doing something controversial in the arena where immigration and education interact in the United States, but I have heard nothing to that effect.

Nor have similar activities of the Danes, Estonians, or Fijians come to my attention.

But if you keep going down the alphabet eventually you come to the Turks, and will find all sorts of news in the immigration/education field, all played out in this country.

The most recent development — I am sure not reported elsewhere — is that a small, seemingly prosperous Turkish higher education institution, nicely housed in a high-rent area a couple of blocks from the White House, an entity that has a green light from the Department of Homeland Security for the admission of foreign students, has had its accreditation revoked.

That decision was not made by some tough-cop sort of accreditation agency, but by an organization that had such low standards that the Obama administration tried to put it out of business; it was revived by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who is a fan of private-for-profit educational institutions.

Getting a negative decision from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is like flunking your alma mater's most notorious gut course; it does not happen very often.

But it did in the case of BAU International University in Washington; it is the U.S. outpost of the BAU educational system of Turkey, apparently a major educational and economic power in that nation.

It so happens that I attended a conference on Turkish public policy at BAU a year or so ago, and met Turkey's ambassador to the United States at that event. The place exudes modernity and money, and is apparently a showplace for BAU interests, specifically, and for the Turkish establishment, generally.

The subject of that conference at BAU was the attempted coup in Turkey; instigated, according to President Erdogan, by another player in the U.S. migration/education business Fethallah Gulen, a conservative Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania (more on this later). BAU, in short, is not in the Gulen camp, and seems to be plugged into the power structure of Turkey. What got it in trouble with ACICS, the mildest of regulators?

BAU refused, over a period of many months, if not years, to provide ACICS with a financial report, something that ACICS gets routinely from all of the places that it accredits. I did not learn about this refusal in any creative or clandestine manner; it has been on the ACICS website for months, and the most recent epistle can be seen here.

BAU has appealed the ACICS decision, a process that will take months to resolve. For an earlier report of ours on this developing situation, see here.

In the meantime, BAU can continue to operate for perhaps a year or so, as it moves through the six-year initial process of licensure by the D.C. government, its current provisional license being less than six years old. But if at the end of that time it still lacks accreditation, it would lose that approval, and once that happens, the Department of Homeland Security would be obliged to terminate its right to teach foreign students.

Why BAU's leadership got themselves into this potentially fatal jam is hard to understand. Maybe it is institutional arrogance — you can't treat us that way!

Maybe it is a cultural thing — maybe no Turkish institution has to answer such questions, certainly not a well-connected one.

Maybe it is simply a bit of sustained incompetence by BAU's leadership.

Maybe, more particularly, it was a massive misjudgment on the part of BAU, not realizing that an obscure, much-criticized, non-governmental agency, ACICS, has the indirect power to shut BAU's doors.

Meanwhile, a much larger group of educational institutions, all allied with Gulen, continue to receive heavy criticism, but continue to operate, fully-funded by the public purse. These are the Gulen charter schools, whose efforts to divert public funds into the hands of his cult have been well documented by "60 Minutes". While some local communities have closed Gulen Charter Schools, the feds, despite many FBI investigations, have filed only a single indictment.

A minor player in the Gulen system is one of its two U.S. universities, Virginia International University, in Fairfax, Va., which, for a small institution, has made remarkably extensive use of the H-1B program. VIU has used the program to recruit administrators and publicists far more often than faculty members.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence that an anti-Gulen institution (BAU) is now getting into the somewhat similar (and largely non-reported) troubles similar to those of the Gulen institutions.

Incidentally, if BAU's Washington operations were to be terminated by the D.C. government it would add a tiny bit of additional tension to the already fraught U.S.-Turkey relationship, even though the closing of BAU would not be done by the federal government.

That would be a nuance that Ankara would likely not understand.