Although it has been more than one year since the University of La Verne closed the Athens campus, the University continues to endure negative criticism as well as seven lawsuits currently pending in Greece.
While University administrators firmly stand behind their decision, many former Athens campus employees, bolstered by the ULV chapter of the American Association of University Professors, are demanding answers and compensation from the California institution.
“Professional lives were involved with ULV,” said William Cook, professor of English and president of La Verne’s AAUP chapter. “Faculty, published on an international level, made (the Athens campus) the best private university in Greece and received nothing in return. That to me on any level is unacceptable.”
In August 2004, the University of La Verne hired the independent public accounting firm Deloitte to conduct an audit of the Athens campus finances after discovering financial problems with Somateo Collegeio La Verne, the Greek nonprofit organization that worked with ULV to run the Athens campus.
Deloitte found that Somateo was roughly $3 million in debt. If Somateo continued to operate, the Greek campus could have collapsed mid term.
“Rather than closing in the middle of the semester, students could settle in other programs,” ULV President Stephen Morgan said.
Executive Vice President Phil Hawkey added that, although the Greek campus’ program was strong, its closure was essential.
“We had no choice when we found out the severity of the financial problems,” Hawkey said. “We had to act to protect the students. It was painful for everyone involved, but it was necessary.”
Hawkey and other ULV representatives traveled to Athens in September 2004 to address the ULV Athens faculty, staff and students.
“(Somateo) kicked us, as ULV representatives, off their campus,” Hawkey said. “They did not let us talk to the students.”
As a result, Hawkey said the University of La Verne placed advertisements in two major Athens newspapers just to get in touch with the Athens students.
Many Athens students then met with ULV representatives to plan alternatives for finishing their education.
“It was an intense period for several weeks,” Hawkey said.
ULV Athens students were ultimately redirected to other universities such as the University of Indianapolis Athens, Deree University and the ULV California campus.
?Although Somateo attempted to run the university independently as a non-accredited institution, it eventually disbanded in late 2004.
Hawkey said he was pleased that roughly 300 degrees have been issued to the Athens students since the campus’ closure.
“But many students were forced to go to schools with a much lower level, and some had to change their majors,” said Don Schofield, a former
humanities professor and department chair at the Athens campus. “Some simply chose to drop out, at least for a while.
“On the other hand, what ULV California did to the (ULV Athens) staff was unconscionable,” he added.
Schofield, who worked at the Athens campus for 23 years, said the Athens campus faculty members were completely ignored by ULV.
“How could they simply cut loose so many people without any prospect for relief?” Schofield asked. “It’s still hard to believe.”
Cook, who once served as ULV’s vice president of academic affairs, with other former Athens campus faculty, attempted to have these questions answered by submitting appeals to the University.
The ULV Faculty Personnel Committee first heard an appeal from the Athens faculty in April, which stated that the Athens employees did not receive “due rights” listed under the Professional Ethics and Personnel Policies Including Tenure, or PEPPIT, contract.
“The FPC said they had no jurisdiction (in the case),” Cook said.
A final argument was then presented to the ULV’s Vice President of Academic Afairs Appeal’s Board in May 2005.
The argument stated that the 30 full-time Athens campus faculty were, in fact, full-time ULV faculty based upon letters of appointment, letters of congratulation to rank and/or letters given to the dean of the Athens campus by action of the president and the ULV board of trustees.
The professors also argued that ULV agreed to reserve the right to appoint the full-time faculty and to contract the faculty under the provisions of the PEPPIT handbook.
PEPPIT applies to ULV Athens employees as it does to those at the California campus, they argued.
Since the PEPPIT document was used as a guideline for the Athens campus faculty, the University was obligated to have its site administrators notify the faculty of the closure based on “financial exigency” and to implement the “termination” requirements as PEPPIT prescribes.
“We did not want to make it confrontational,” Cook said. “But we wanted to find a way for a third party to work out the differences of opinion.”
Morgan said that Somateo was contractually responsible for the hire and pay of Athens faculty, while ULV was to provide accredited programs and oversight.
“If ULV provided severance compensation to (the ULV Athens employees), under Greek law, that proved that ULV was assuming full responsibility for Somateo’s financial problems,” Morgan said. “If it were done, that could put ULV in a very precarious position.”
However, Athens faculty and supporters insist that they were a part of ULV and should have been protected by the PEPPIT, which states that the University is required to provide six months’ warning of termination due to financial emergency cases.
Despite their differences, however, both parties agreed that the matter is for the courts to decide.
Seven lawsuits against ULV are currently pending.
Hawkey said that former faculty and staff of the Somateo campus filed four of the suits, while former ULV Athens students filed the other three suits. A law firm in Athens is handling the cases and the hearings have been delayed until May and June 2006.
“I think it could go on for years,” Morgan said. “It’s a very slow process.”
Both Morgan and Hawkey said that there are no plans to establish other ULV campuses internationally.
“(The Athens campus) is part of our history, not part of our future,” Hawkey said.
“We had a program in Italy as well as Greece and over the years found it is very complicated to do business internationally, with the procedures in foreign counties,” Morgan said.
Morgan said that the University’s study abroad program is still of “high interest” and he encourages ULV students to study abroad.
“(ULV) students are still studying in Athens,” International and Study Abroad Center Director Phil Hofer said. “When we closed (ULV Athens), they studied through BCA at the University of Indianapolis Odyssey Program. Beginning in Fall 2006, they will study through BCA at City University (Washington) in Athens.”
However, Schofield called this past year “hell” for him since the campus closed.
“I’ve not only moved cities, but have had to go into debt in order to live, even with a small Greek unemployment allotment each month,” Schofield said. “Suddenly having to look for work at 56 is not easy.”
“I’m just one example,” Schofield added. “There are many others in worse shape.”
Tracy Spicer can be reached at email@example.com.