April 2, 2024

Under Fire for UAGC Deal, University of Arizona President Stepping Down

Under Fire for UAGC Deal, University of Arizona President Stepping Down

University of Arizona president Robert Robbins announced today that he is stepping down, as criticism has mounted, including from Arizona governor Katie Hobbs, over his handling of the acquisition of for-profit Ashford University, which had a long record of deceiving lower-income students, and over U of A’s related financial turmoil.

“I informed the regents this morning that I will step down as president of the University of Arizona after fulfilling the terms of my current contract,” Robbins was quoted as saying in a statement released by the State Board of Regents. “When a new president has been appointed by ABOR and she or he is prepared to start sooner than the end date of my contract, I will ensure a smooth transition to my successor and step aside earlier.”

Robbins’ resignation came after Governor Hobbs yesterday told reporters that she is “continuing to lose patience” with the school’s financial crisis and with hearing “one thing from [Robbins] and then something else from reporting” regarding the deal for Ashford, now called University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC).

Asked if she would urge the Board of Regents to fire Robbins or if her office would start a formal investigation, Hobbs said, “It is certainly concerning, and we’re still looking at options…. I would love for President Robbins to just share what he knew at the time that he knew it.”

Hobbs continued, “Either the fact that U of A entered into this very large purchase without understanding the liability that they were taking on. Or the fact that they did know the liability and they’re trying to cover up how much they knew. We just don’t know. There’s been too much misinformation around this whole situation.”

Hobbs gave her remarks in the wake of a devastating Arizona Republic article, published last Wednesday, that documented what seems to be repeated misrepresentations by Robbins regarding the Ashford acquisition. 

Getting in bed with scam artists can have a corrupting effect. 

Republic Report has been among many voices contending from the outset that the Ashford deal was a mistake for the University of Arizona. We questioned the proposed acquisition on the very day it was announced, August 3, 2020; we cited Ashford’s extensive history of predatory practices, deceptions against students and taxpayers, and law enforcement problems.  Two days later we asked more questions about the deal, including President Robbins‘ motivation.

In 2021, after the acquisition, we reported allegations by a UAGC recruiter that deceptive practices continued and by an instructor that shoddy academic practices persisted. 

In March 2022, a California state judge issued a $22.3 million verdict against Ashford and its previous owner, Zovio, for deceptive practices, after a civil trial prosecuted by the state’s attorney general. Instead of shutting down the school at that point, U of A pushed Zovio out of the lucrative service contract it held, hired most Zovio employees directly, and carried on. Last month, a California appeals court affirmed the judgment against the school.

Last August, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was cancelling $72 million in student loan obligations for more than 2,300 former students who attended Ashford between 2009 and 2020; the Department subsequently affirmed that it would seek to recoup those costs, and it appeared that UAGC would be on the hook.

The Department of Education still has not formally approved the change of ownership of the school from Zovio to U of A, and it shouldn’t. 

Governor Hobbs seems to get, as many other Arizona politicians have not, that Robert Robbins’ UAGC is an embarrassment to the state, and potentially a very expensive embarrassment. 

Perhaps now that Robbins is leaving, the University of Arizona can see the wisdom of shutting down the predatory school whose purchase helped trigger his demise.