May 29, 2024

Clinging To Phoenix, U of Idaho President Spreads Cash, FOMO

Clinging To Phoenix, U of Idaho President Spreads Cash, FOMO

University of Idaho president C. Scott Green is still trying to keep alive the dream of his school acquiring the troubled for-profit University of Phoenix, even though the proposed deal has been met with sharp disapproval from state legislators, the state’s attorney general and treasurer, and many others in Idaho.

Idaho Education News reports this week on emails between members of the Idaho State Board of Education, which oversees Green’s school, that discuss Green’s continuing talks with Apollo Global Management, the current owners of the University of Phoenix.

At the same time, Green’s apparent effort to influence the Idaho legislature through a series of campaign contributions seem to have only raised more questions about whether he has any idea what he’s doing.

According to the newly-unearthed email messages, obtained by Idaho Education News through a public records request, Green told a Board of Education member and an aide to Idaho governor Brad Little (R) that one possibility being floated is that Apollo would extend for nine to twelve months the expiring deadline for the deal to be completed, but Idaho would agree to “drop exclusivity,” meaning Apollo would be free to talk with other prospective purchasers,  and perhaps pay a “break-up” fee to Idaho if one of these possible buyers reaches a deal.

Phoenix’s supposed interest in seeing other people, as floated by Green, may be aimed at making Idaho jealous, but based on developments in the year since the Idaho-Phoenix deal was announced, there may not actually be any genuine suitors in the wings.

A subsequent email recounts a May 1 meeting involving Green, representatives of the Board of Education, and Governor Little. According to the message, the meeting participants “agreed we need state policy leaders to signal whether they even want to move forward with the underlying transaction or not. The governor is going to have some informal conversations and follow up with us.”

The University of Phoenix told Idaho Education News, “We are optimistic that we can find a path forward with the University of Idaho and look forward to continuing discussions with leaders in the state.” The University of Idaho said, “We continue to have conversations with the governor and legislators about their interest in continuing to pursue this opportunity for our state.”

Green also confirmed to the Idaho Statesman this week that he still wants the Phoenix deal. “The sellers are still very interested, as are we,” Green told the paper. He also said that Phoenix’s revenues, around $800 million a year, “are probably more compelling than ever.”

But the ball seems to be in Governor Little’s court at this point, and he should be asking whether the deal ever made sense for Idaho.

The University of Phoenix has indeed received billions in taxpayer-funded student grants and loans over decades — a record that might suggest, as Green endlessly does, that it would be a cash cow for the University of Idaho. But Phoenix also has repeatedly faced actions from law enforcement agencies over deceptive and predatory practices. Betting that the school can keep engaging in such abuses without getting shut down, or, alternatively, that the school could keep making money without engaging in those predatory practices, seems awfully risky. There’s also the serious possibility that, having bought Phoenix, Green’s school could be on the hook to pay back federal taxpayers billions in student loan dollars that Phoenix banked by deceiving students.

The stalwart Idaho Education News also reported this month that Green donated $7,289.34 to eleven incumbent candidates for the state legislature in advance of the May 21 Republican primary.

One of those contributions — the maximum $1,000 permitted by Idaho law — was to Senator Chuck Winder (R), President Pro Tem of the state senate. Winder had supported a bill — which ultimately failed — that was intended to cure the perceived constitutional flaws in the structure of the Phoenix deal. Four other Green donations went to Republican state representatives who had opposed a separate House bill to authorize a lawsuit by the legislature to block the deal. (Another recipient of Green money voted for that bill.)

Last August, also, Green donated $10,000 to New Horizons, a political action committee led by Rep. Megan Blanksma, then the House Majority Leader. And in April, Scott Green’s wife, Gabriella Green, donated $25,000 to Idaho Deserves Better, a political group opposing hardline conservative state senator Dan Foreman.

University presidents don’t usually try to become players in state politics through campaign contributions, but a University of Idaho spokesperson defended the Greens’ giving to Idaho Education News. “Any political contributions made by Scott or Gabriella Green are from their own resources and are not associated with any university dollars. It is their right, as citizens, to support any candidates of their choosing,” Jodi Walker said.

But you wouldn’t have guessed how proud the Greens were about these campaign contributions from the way they presented them. The Idaho campaign finance reports list multiple variations of Green’s name — his initials “CS” or “C.s.” or his actual first name, Cumer — and two different addresses.  Yet spokesperson Walker claimed, “There is no effort to obscure this support, and in fact (the Greens) proudly confirm these donations.”

But as to whether the Greens’ campaign contributions will advance the cause of the Phoenix deal, if that was a desired outcome, it’s not so clear.

Rep. Brent Crane (R), chair of the powerful Idaho House State Affairs Committee, told the Statesman he hadn’t heard of college presidents getting involved in political contests.  Crane said Green “just hurt his cause significantly” and “obviously doesn’t understand politics; he should be focusing his time on education, not on political races.” Crane added, referencing the Phoenix deal, “So no, his issue will be dead.”

UPDATE 05-30-24 5:00 pm:

More superb reporting today by Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reveals, among other things, a March 28 email from the Board of Education’s executive director to board members: “Kurt (Liebich), President Green and I met with the governor this afternoon. It was determined that there is no viable path forward at this point for the University of Phoenix transaction. A statement will be issued by the University of Idaho — likely tomorrow.” I guess they changed their minds.

UPDATE 07-01-24:  Idaho Education News, “‘We hope to keep them interested:’ U of I gets more time to negotiate a Phoenix deal”