The end of an era: George Wythe University finds a safe landing

George Wythe University is a school that used to operate out of Cedar City, made claims of moving to Monticello and now has a Salt Lake City home. Although I was never a student there, we toyed with having our son attend – until he interviewed with Shanon Brooks and Oliver DeMille. We quickly realized he would not be considered a “cool kid,” the school was way more of a “good old boys club” than we were comfortable with and there were some academic questions we could not get answered.  We were also concerned at the cult-like adoration that both Brooks and DeMille not only welcomed but encouraged.

The end of an era: George Wythe University finds a safe landing
by Holly Richardson

Turns out, we weren’t the only ones to have misgivings. Several years later, the real story started emerging. There were financial improprieties (fraud, cronyism), the awarding of bogus degrees (thankfully just a few), unfulfilled (and unfulfillable) promises and a betrayal of trust under DeMille and Brooks.

Unfortunately, those two ruined what could have been a model for disruptive innovation in higher ed.

As the board uncovered more and more of what had actually been going on, they had the good sense to boot DeMille and Brooks and begin the long, slow, painful process of making things right.

Late last week, they announced that after years of clean-up, the end is in sight. George Wythe University will be acquired by another school by early next year with both extensive internal and external student record audits completed, a thorough cleansing of the problems created some 20 years ago and the promise of legislation to prevent this type of fraud from being perpetuated again.

For the majority of students – and faculty and staff – their time at George Wythe University was spent working hard to receive (and offer) a top-notch, in-depth liberal arts education. How unfair to them that greedy shysters tainted their degrees and ruined the reputation of the school, to the point that fundraising was impossible and it became clear that GWU would not survive in the long-term.

Therefore, the school had three options: Starvation, Closure or Acquisition. The school chose acquisition, the most common solution for colleges in distress. GWU needed to complete their audit and cleanup, and worked closely with the Division of Consumer Protection, which, as they explain on their website:

Allowed us to consult frequently on how to properly resolve all lingering degree and transcript problems. We approached them for assistance in 2012, and to our pleasant surprise, the Division took their mission of protecting the interests of the students as seriously as we did. They were nothing short of stellar in their ability to help come up with solutions. Every conversation during this new phase was positive, even heartening. Encouraged by the Division’s commitment to finding answers, we pressed on with new zeal for solving the most vexing problems once and for all. With a mutual interest in the welfare of our students, they became our ground-based control tower helping guide the school in for a safe landing.

One student, now in law school, had this to say upon hearing the news of GWU’s coming acquisition:

I’m a graduate from 2006. I just want to say thank you for all you are doing to make sure we are acquired by a reputable institution. I did work hard for my degree and since earning my degree I have watched and waited in anticipation for GWU to become accredited. Knowing this will now never happen but that my degree will be transferred to another institution actually brings me much peace. After my graduation I decided to do some research of my own about DeMille and was shocked by the things I found about him. Any removal from his name and his practices is a great thing in my opinion.

Although having a degree from GWU has not stopped me from progressing academically, I’m graduating from BYU in 2016 with my JD/MBA, I will be happy to put my GWU years to rest under an accredited institution.

Thank you again for all of your hard work and efforts in mine and other students behalf.

– Steve W, Class of 2006

Sometimes we are too jaded to see the good that can come out of rotten situations. The board and cleanup crew are to be commended for holding strong in the face of intense opposition from DeMille and Brooks supporters. They showed dedication to making things right. They also stuck by their commitment to be open, honest and transparent about the changes at GWU in a process that took about six years to reach a resolution. The Division of Consumer Protection worked hand-in-hand with George Wythe University to make progress and come to a final, clean terminus. The students and teachers who worked hard in spite of internal drama showed hope for a future that they are creating. Lessons learned and shared – even painful ones – bless all they touch. Rest in peace, George Wythe.

Originally posted at Holly on the Hill. Reposted with permission.

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