Virginia Regulators Take Another Step Toward Ending VIU's License

By David North on March 21, 2019

Virginia's higher education regulators, very quietly, took another step this week in the ongoing process that may well lead to revoking the license of Virginia International University (VIU), of Fairfax, Va., the Gulen cult-linked institution that is all too tolerant of plagiarism, according to a State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) staff report discussed in a previous posting.

VIU is one of the marginal institutions that CIS has been following, places with very high percentages of foreign students, many of whom seem more interested in obtaining work permission in the subsidized OPT program than in securing a genuine education. These marginal entities represent only a small percentage of schools working with foreign students.

VIU is associated with Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled Muslim cleric, now living in the Poconos. Most educational institutions affiliated with his movement are charter high schools. The Gulen movement, a largely Turkish entity, is now, as it did not used to be, at odds with Turkey's autocratic president, Recep Erdogan.

SCHEV has a three-phase process for handling such matters. The first phase, now concluded, consists of a staff investigation of the institution in question; the staff, as we reported earlier, recommending moving ahead with the revocation process.

On Tuesday, the Council voted unanimously to go into the second phase, which includes giving the institution a chance to rebut the staff findings and an informal hearing on the matter. Should that process result in a further recommendation to close the school, the full Council will vote on the termination of VIU's license. If this happens, it will take place some months from now.

While this is a slow procedure, SCHEV has voted twice in recent years to close down marginal entities. In late 2017, it shut down the American College of Commerce and Technology, in Falls Church, Va. And a few years earlier it did the same to the University of Northern Virginia. All three of these institutions have, or had, locations in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Since in recent years the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has done nothing about these marginal institutions, it has become the task of the states to make such judgments and this happens only rarely. If SCHEV does, in fact, shut down VIU the score in recent years will be:

  • Virginia: 3 closures
  • California: 1
  • The other 48 states: 0
  • DHS: 0

The one California action dealt with Silicon Valley University, where the departing president took a "loan" of $12.5 million in SVU funds as he retired.

It is possible that some other state, or states, closed some other marginal institution(s) in recent years but we have not heard about it, and there is no central registry of such actions. Most closings of marginal institutions have been more or less voluntary actions; some hastened by rejections by non-governmental accrediting entities as well as by market forces.

The SCHEV Process

The move toward the closure of VIU — a tentative decision that may be reversed later — is part of a slow, quiet procedure, with more gentleness and gentility than confrontation. Or at least that's what I found while attending, and playing a minor role in, the sessions of the SCHEV State Council meeting on the grounds of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., earlier this week.

The decision-making process seen at this SCHEV meeting, and presumably others as well, is in sharp contrast to the frequently conflict-laden pattern of congressional hearings, which are often as much theater as anything else.

This was shown, unwittingly I am sure, by the presence or absence of microphones. On Capital Hill, everyone on the committee, and at the table for the witnesses, has a mic. With the State Council, none of the members have mics, nor does the chairman, and some of the statements of the members are hard to hear. Only when there is a presentation by a staff member or a witness is a mic used. These arrangements, and the seeming lack of press coverage, discourage drama, as does the Council's membership, who appear more attuned to academic matters, rather than political ones.

SCHEV deals with a wide-variety of higher education issues and the licensing of non-public higher education institutions is only one of its concerns; that was clearly shown in this week's meeting.

VIU came up, briefly, three times during the two-day schedule. On Monday afternoon, the Academic Affairs Committee discussed briefly a staff recommendation to the full Council that it move ahead with the revocation process, as previously outlined. There was no discussion of the results of the staff investigation, which covered the lack of English proficiency by many graduate students being taught in English, the lack of qualifications of two VIU employees, and the extensive tolerance of plagiarism, mentioned in my earlier posting.

One Council member stating his concern about the "integrity of the program", was the single substantive comment by the panel. Virginia State Senator J. Chapman Petersen, the attorney for VIU, spoke in defense of the institution; though his Senate membership was not mentioned that day, it was the following day.

Chapman noted that two unqualified VIU staffers had been fired, and he offered to close down the online program that the staff had criticized, noting that it had only 30 students out of the some 400 enrollment. He said that he and VIU President Ira Sarac (who said nothing at the proceedings) were present in person "because we take these things seriously."

No one mentioned that the "400 students" Chapman spoke about was a fraction of the school's claimed enrollment of 1,876 in 2015-2016.

The members of the Academic Affairs Committee then voted, unanimously, to recommend to the full Council that the revocation-consideration process proceed. It was all over in a few minutes.

On the next day, Tuesday, March 19, VIU was discussed, briefly, twice. There were three people speaking in the public comment period; I was the first, followed by Senator Petersen; the third person dealt with a totally different subject.

My point was the integrity (or lack of it) in the school's finances. I noted that perhaps uniquely among non-profit universities in the state, VIU was paying local property taxes, because it had given the campus to a 70 percent university-owned for-profit subsidiary, Malvi Consulting, and then had started paying rent (reaching over a million dollars in 2017) to Malvi, which, because it was a for-profit entity, had to pay local property taxes.

"What possible legitimate reason can there be for such a maneuver?" I asked, and then noted that other Gulen-affiliated schools, such as the Dove Schools of Oklahoma, had used such arrangements to siphon public schools money to other, non-educational entities in the Gulen organization, all as recorded by the Oklahoma state auditor.

Petersen followed with another brief defense of the school. The Council had no questions for either of us.

An hour or so later, the full Council, again with scant conversation, approved the recommendation of the Academic Affairs committee to move ahead with the revocation process.

It will be a matter of months before the second phase of this process ends, and the Council makes a final decision.