University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart has accepted a $70,000 position on the board of a for-profit college firm that’s being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly deceiving students.
A spokesman for Hart said her association with DeVry Education Group, parent firm of DeVry University, is a “personal endeavor” unrelated to her job as the UA’s CEO.
Hart will receive $70,000 annually plus $100,000 a year in stock as a DeVry board member, according to corporate filings on the Securities and Exchange Commission website. Her UA pay package is worth $665,500 this year.
“I will remain on the (DeVry) board for the same reasons I accepted the appointment — I believe my experience helping public university students achieve their academic goals will benefit DeVry’s students,” Hart told the Arizona Daily Star.
Her statement came as controversy engulfed another public educator who joined the DeVry board the same day Hart did but quit soon after.
University of California-Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi resigned her DeVry seat within days after critics said Katehi had tarnished her school’s reputation by lending her name to a firm accused of misleading students about their career prospects.
The FTC announced Jan. 27 that it had filed suit against DeVry because the firm “deceived consumers about the likelihood that students would find jobs in their fields of study, and would earn more than those graduating with bachelor’s degrees from other colleges or universities.”
DeVry officials have denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the federal enforcement action. The company has three locations in Arizona, all in the Phoenix area.
Hart and Katehi assumed their DeVry posts at a four-day meeting and board orientation session Feb. 15-18 in Florida. Katehi quit the board March 1.
UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said Hart used personal time to attend the Florida event, and said DeVry paid her travel expenses. It’s the first time since joining the UA in 2012 that Hart has received outside compensation, he said.
In her emailed statement to the Star on Wednesday, Hart said she accepted the DeVry position “with the full knowledge and support of the Arizona Board of Regents leadership and general counsel.”
Regents spokeswoman Sarah Harper said Hart did not seek regents’ permission because, unlike in California, Arizona’s university presidents aren’t required to get permission for extracurricular ventures. They need only to provide notice and file financial disclosure statements about their activities. Hart complied, Harper said.
The California university system has a 10-page policy governing outside professional activities by senior management, which includes an application and approval process. Katehi, of UC-Davis, was found to have violated the policy by accepting her DeVry board seat without permission.
Arizona’s rules say only that presidents must give their day jobs top priority, and that they can engage in outside activities as long as they don’t interfere.
On Thursday and Friday, the Star requested copies of financial disclosure statements filed by Hart and the state’s other two university presidents. Harper said late Friday that more time would be needed to produce those documents.
Hart said a headhunter for DeVry first approached her last summer about joining the board. She said she vetted the company thoroughly before she agreed.
The federal investigation of DeVry “definitely raised concerns for me,” but not to the degree that it affected her decision, she said.
Other schools face accusations of using misleading job placement statistics, Hart said.
“There have been stories and questions in recent years about claims made by not-for-profit colleges and universities, as well as by law schools and other professional schools, about employment rates of graduates. Debates rage currently about what employment in one’s field of study means, and all of us must pay attention to the accuracy and clarity of these statements,” she wrote.
Hart said she intends to serve “as an advocate and influence for quality” in the company’s schools, and said she hasn’t had any negative feedback at the UA over her DeVry appointment.
“I have received only congratulations and expressions of interest in what can be learned and the influence such an opportunity makes possible,” she said.
But Hart’s new job doesn’t seem to be very well-known within the university. Lynn Nadel, the chair of UA’s faculty, said he hadn’t heard about it and couldn’t comment without looking into the matter.
The company’s news release on Hart’s appointment highlighted her status as a public educator.
“Dr. Hart is currently the president of the University of Arizona and also holds an appointment as professor of educational policy studies and practice in the College of Education,” it said, going on to list Hart’s achievements at the UA and other institutions at which she has worked.
Kevin Kinser, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Albany and an expert in the for-profit education industry, said firms like DeVry are eager to find public education leaders willing to join their boards.
Doing so can lend an air of prestige to such firms, while bringing fresh ideas from outside “to counter the business-corporate mentality that tends to dominate,” he said.
But in an era when the for-profit education industry in general is under a cloud, it’s not unusual for public university presidents who join forces “to be criticized for making a deal with the devil,” he said. “It’s not like joining the board of a charitable foundation. This is a sector that many people look at the same way as the pharmaceutical industry or big oil.”
Ideally, outsiders like Hart can function as “the conscience of the institution,” Kinser said.
“On the other hand, getting six figures for doing it may suggest some compromises to independence.”