LV faces Athens suits
Posted May 16, 2008

Though the University of La Verne shuttered its Athens, Greece, campus in 2004, that chapter of the University’s life has not ended, as officials here are finding themselves embroiled in legal struggles stemming from the way in which the Athens campus was closed.

At present, there are at least five lawsuits pending against University officials, including suits brought forth by students, faculty and the former president of the ULV Athens campus.

“In a panic, many of the students filed lawsuits against the University because they feared they were not going to get their money back,” said former ULV Athens student Christiana Charitonos, who transferred to the main campus and still attends school here.

The faculty suits allege that ULV closed the Greek campus without giving faculty members the advance notice they were entitled to under their contracts. And the Greek campus’ former president, Craig Sexson, is suing ULV claiming the terms of his employment were breached, among other complaints.

ULV’s Executive Vice President Phil Hawkey said, however, that there may be little basis for the former employees’ complaints because the Athens employees were employed under non-ULV contracts, with different rights and privileges.

In 2004, the University of La Verne severed ties with its Athens campus and the Somateo Collegio La Verne, the non-profit organization, which ULV contracted to run the Athens campus for more than 10 years.

At the time, financial concerns had plagued the overseas campus, which led to a financial viability study that was conducted over a three-week period by the independent public accounting firm Deloitte. Deloitte found that the Somateo had a negative net equity of 2.4 million Euros (a little more than $3.7 million) that was projected to increase to 2.7 million Euros (approximately $4.2 million) at the end of 2004. The Somateo’s assets totaled just 1.3 million Euros (about $2 million), but its liabilities were 3.7 million Euros (more than $5.7 million), Deloitte reported.

“The Somateo operated independently and our concern was when we were advised that the Somateo wasn’t making payroll… and that told us that there must be financial problems,” Hawkey said of the decision to shutter the campus in 2004. “Our concern was that the students be able to get a good education.”

At the time of the closure, ULV Athens students were offered the chance to come to the University of La Verne main campus at a discounted rate, but many were unable to make the move because they said it was still too costly.

The employees were a different matter. Those suing assumed they were under contract with ULV and therefore entitled to all the rights and privileges under the ULV employee handbook, Professional Ethics and Personnel Policies Including Tenure, or PEPPIT, which makes provisions for “termination or reduction in cases of financial exigency.” When the Athens campus was closed and they lost their jobs, they say their rights under PEPPIT were violated.

Hawkey, however, said the faculty members were employed not by ULV but by the Somateo. The former employees suing, as well as some current ULV employees, however, say the Somateo and its employees were part of ULV.

According to the suit filed in 2007 Los Angeles by former ULV Athens President Sexson: “From 1975 to 2004, the Athens campus was directly administered and controlled by the University of La Verne. Such control by the University of La Verne included the staffing and selection of the faculty, selection of the curriculum and general oversight of the academic programs.”

According to Hawkey, however, the University of La Verne only contracted with the Somateo to provide services for ULV students.

Sexson’s attorneys said Sexson feels betrayed and mistreated.

“He basically got the rug pulled out from underneath him,” Steven Ball, Sexson’s attorney said.

ULV first opened its Greek campus at the Nea Makri Naval Base almost 30 years ago to work alongside the United States military.

When the U.S. military left the base and La Verne wanted to stay in Athens, ULV was forced by Greek law to find alternative means to teach higher education.

Under Greek law the only entity allowed to teach higher education was the Greek government. Therefore ULV decided to create a not-for-profit organization called the Somateo, in order to provide higher education.

Hawkey said the Somateo was comprised of Greek citizens who were on the board of trustees.

The Somateo’s main purpose was to act as a liaison between the school and the country in order for La Verne to continue running its educational programs.

When ULV abruptly closed down on the first day of what was supposed to be fall semester 2004, faculty were left without jobs and students were in a scramble to relocate to other universities.

Many long-time faculty were laid off when ULV closed the Athens campus and revoked its contract with the Somateo.

ULV President Stephen Morgan declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Jennifer Gilderman can be reached at jgilderman@ulv.edu.

Susan Acker can be reached at sacker@ulv.edu.

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