‘The whole thing just smells bad’: University of Idaho faculty, taxpayers respond to University of Phoenix acquisition

The University of Idaho left nearly all its faculty in the dark as it began building plans to acquire the University of Phoenix, an online school with a tainted history. (Dreamstime/TNS)

BOISE, Idaho — The University of Idaho says its faculty members have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the news of its plans to acquire the University of Phoenix. But emails from University of Idaho professors in the days following the announcement paint a different picture.

In the 24 hours after the details became public, the Idaho State Board of Education received dozens of emails from University of Idaho professors, alumni and Idaho taxpayers urging the governing body to reject the $550 million deal. Only one person wrote in favor of buying the online school.


The board ultimately gave its approval for the proposal, but not before reviewing many of the messages, which were obtained by the Idaho Statesman under the Idaho Public Records Act.

Faculty, residents ask State Board to vote no

“UI wants to sacrifice its reputation for a scheme it thinks can make money,” University of Idaho climatologist and data scientist Erich Seamon said in an email to the board. “This has bad business deal written all over it. It is bad for Idaho and will end up costing more than it’s worth.”

Seamon said the University of Phoenix was looking for a buyout, and legitimacy to boot.

University of Idaho Provost and Executive Vice President Torrey Lawrence told the Statesman by phone that the university community, dubbed the “Vandal family,” is eager for the school to take a stake in the realm of online education.

“Actually, a lot of people are very excited; they see it as a unique opportunity,” Lawrence said. “Many of those that reacted negatively didn’t quite have all the facts at the beginning, because it’s a complicated, complex transaction.”

James Spearman, an Idaho resident, said in an email shortly after news of the deal began to spread that “the whole thing just smells bad.”

He cited the University of Phoenix’s poor completion rate and argued that the purchase would tarnish the reputation of the state’s flagship university. Of the roughly 64,000 undergraduate students who attend the University of Phoenix, only 27% receive a degree, according to a U.S. Department of Education scorecard. University of Idaho’s graduate rate is 60%.

Many of the complaints assigned blame to University of Idaho President Scott Green — a Harvard business school graduate and former chief financial officer of a global law firm in New York — and accused him of brokering a bad business deal for the Moscow school, where he once studied accounting and served as student body president.

“Frankly, I’m concerned. This seems like more of a business venture than something an academic institution should be involved in,” University of Idaho alumnus Carey Edwards wrote in an email to the board. “The University of Idaho is not a business, and it shouldn’t be run like one.”

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