Terry Rawls became executive director of educational outreach and summer programs, as well as director of distance learning on March 2, according to a Feb. 23 University News release.
In response to the hiring, the Appalachian American Association of University Professors sent a letter dated Feb. 27 to administrators, raising concerns about Rawls’ prior association with for-profit colleges which have been scrutinized by academic and legal authorities.
Some members of Appalachian State University’s faculty and staff continue to have doubts about the hiring.
Rawls held executive positions at Patten University, Jones International University and Heald College, according to University News.
The letter outlined complaints raised about these institutions with reference to legal, academic and news articles.
Citing an Inside Higher Ed article, the letter criticized Patten University for its model of lowering costs by foregoing federal financial aid.
Jones International University was criticized for heavily relying on part-time faculty; the institution only had two full-time faculty members and 54 part-time faculty when it was accredited.
In addition, the letter states that the technical and vocational nature of Jones’ programs is “inconsistent with higher education’s broader intellectual goals.”
Jones was also criticized for its use of unbundling in its online courses. Unbundling in this sense refers to a method of course development in which those developing the course are different from those who teach it. The letter states that unbundling “undermines educational effectiveness.”
Heald College, which was owned by Corinthian Colleges, was cited in the letter for the numerous legal and student complaints the organization had received from a number of authorities. These complaints alleged that Corinthian targeted vulnerable groups like low-income people and returning veterans.
Corinthians was also criticized for its high dropout and loan default rates.
Corinthian Colleges — and Heald along with it — closed in April after receiving $30 million in fines from the U.S. Department of Education for its manipulation of job placement rates, which were used to encourage students to enroll, according to a Corinthian Colleges email and an Education Department press release.
Approximately 16,000 students were affected by the closure, according to the email.
Rawls was the senior vice president and chief academic officer of Heald from 2010 to 2012, according to University News.
The letter concluded by asking administrators why an individual with this background had been hired and whether or not Rawls planned to bring in aspects of his for-profit background, including the use of unbundling and for-profit recruitment tactics, to his job at Appalachian State.
Reaction to the letter
“I was surprised by the letter,” Provost Stan Aeschleman, who was one of the three administrators the letter was addressed to.
Aeschleman said Rawls’ hiring process had been open, that two public forums had been held and that the search committee which chose Rawls included faculty representation.
Aeschleman said he was not aware of any objections to Rawls during the hiring process.
Rawls, who had no response to the content of the letter, said he was saddened by the “challenge to his hire,” but believes that the ability to have a diversity of viewpoints is “one of the beautiful” things about higher education.
“That group is certainly entitled to its opinion,” Rawls said. Rawls also said that his for-profit background did not come up as an issue during the hiring process.
“I was blown away by the report,” Rawls said, referring to the charges against Corinthian Colleges. Rawls said he saw none of the practices outlined in the reports during his time at Heald.
Rawls said he left Heald because of his disagreement with Corinthian’s philosophy.
“I was never comfortable with the extent to which they were comfortable foregoing some of the traditions of higher education in favor of business practices,” Rawls said in an email. “I believe that there is a place for tolerance in accepting that others have different values and beliefs than I and that it’s not about right and wrong. My differences with the [Corinthian Colleges inc.] leadership were, in my experience, just such a difference in beliefs and values.”
Appalachian AAUP president Michael Behrent said the search committee should have been more wary of Rawls’ background and exercised a higher level of scrutiny.
Paul Gates, faculty senate vice chair and signatory of the letter, said concerns about Rawls did not come up until after the hiring, when people began to look into Rawls’ background online.
“We were not satisfied . . .”
Aeschleman said the issue was passed on to the faculty senate, which set up a meeting with Rawls. Aeschleman did not attend the meeting.
“I believe this is settled,” Aeschleman said.
Gates was among those who attended the meeting.
“We laid out our position that this for-profit outfit he was associated with is the posterchild for all that is wrong with for-profit education,” Gates said.
Gates said his primary concern is that certain concepts and techniques used at for-profit universities might come to Appalachian State.
“We were not satisfied with the assurances we got,” Gates said.
Behrent said he had some concern about Rawls’ background and the specific responsibilities of his position, specifically the potential use of “unbundling” in distance education.
The practice of unbundling has been criticized in the past for its ineffectiveness.
“The faculty who facilitate or teach the course are often less competent in the subject matter than those who design the course,” according to a Kenan Institute for Ethics review of Jones International University.
Rawls said while his background influences how he does his job, he relies primarily on his time in traditional education.
“I draw more on my experiences from Central Michigan University,” Rawls said, referring to his 15 years at the public institution in various academic and administrative posts.
Rawls said the job of designing curriculum was that of the university and, while he may make recommendations and share data, he sees his role primarily as a facilitator.
“I am in a pretty low level position. My job is to help App State become what it wants to be,” Rawls said. “We wouldn’t do the things here that were done at Heald.”
Story: Kevin Griffin, Reporter