Tag Archives: ITT

Speaking of Jerks We’ve Elected….

Todd Rokita.

I knew Rokita was a partisan hack when he introduced Indiana’s Voter ID law, which he sanctimoniously declared was a “good government” measure intended to stop all that nasty in-person “voter fraud” that doesn’t really happen, rather than an effort to prevent “those people” from voting. But in a year when his party’s Presidential ticket is composed of a megalomaniac and a Christian Warrior, I’d sort of forgotten about him.

Last week, however, Rokita had a column in the Indianapolis Business Journal that reminded me why he shouldn’t be in public office.

Rokita was on a rant against the federal Department of Education for its “assault on profit-making.” Translation: how dare the department move against ITT. It hasn’t taken similar action against public institutions! (Rockita also threw in a snide criticism of the IBJ’s editorial board, which had blamed the federal action on ITT’s management.)

Boiled down to its disingenuous basics, Rokita’s argument was that the federal government, motivated solely by liberal animosity to for-profit ventures–had overstepped its authority.

Missing from his diatribe were those pesky little things called “facts.” For years, ITT overcharged students for a shoddy product (its credits wouldn’t even transfer to most other institutions).It enrolled students without regard for their ability to benefit from higher education, because We the Taxpayers were paying the very hefty freight.

State and federal agencies have been investigating ITT since 2002, and it  currently faces fraud charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission and a lawsuit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It has been under investigation by at least 19 state attorneys general.

When U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. issued the Department’s decision to impose increased sanctions upon ITT, he emphasized that the move was not made lightly.

“Ultimately, we made a difficult choice to pursue additional oversight in order to protect you, other students, and taxpayers from potentially worse educational and financial damage in the future if ITT was allowed to continue operating without increased oversight and assurances to better serve students,” King wrote.

ITT was one of several for-profit “educational” endeavors ripping off both taxpayers and the students who left with substandard educations and huge loans to repay. Legitimate institutions of higher education, public and private, have been calling for more oversight of for-profit colleges for a long time.

To label this overdue regulatory action “liberal overreach” is (pardon my language) bullshit.

I can only assume that ITT or its shareholders are among Todd Rokita’s donors. Or his relatives. Or something. The only other explanation for so dishonest a column is abject ignorance.

I am grateful for one thing, though. The column reminded me why I have no use for Todd Rokita.

The Profit Motive

One of the many troubling features of our current civic landscape is the steady erosion of boundaries between sectors. Thanks to “privatization,” or–more accurately–contracting and outsourcing, the lines between public, private and nonprofit have steadily blurred.

The problem is that different sectors have different purposes/missions. For-profit companies exist to make money; nonprofit organizations are mission-driven, and the public sector is supposed to serve the public and safeguard the common good. These descriptions obviously gloss over the many nuances in each sector, but they are a serviceable shorthand.

When the profit motive characterizes all of the sectors, our society no longer works the way it should.

I get “paper” newspapers on Sunday mornings, and look forward to reading the news old-style. Last Sunday, I opened the Indianapolis Star to discover that it had engaged in actual journalism, in a story about charter schools established by ITT.

The strongest selling point of the Early Career Academy, a tax-funded charter school scheduled to open next year in Indianapolis, is that its high school students will earn an associate degree free of charge.

But the degree comes with a catch: The credits from that degree likely will not transfer to any major university in the state if the students want to pursue four-year degrees.

There is, however, one institution guaranteed to accept the credits — the for-profit college sponsoring the charter school.

ITT, you may recall, is being sued in several states by individuals and the federal government, who allege that it provides an inferior education for which it charges exorbitant tuition, and employs unethical, high-pressure sales techniques to “lock students into an education most are unable to finish and into loans many are unable to pay off.”

When I opened my Sunday New York Times, the front-page story was even worse–the headline was “Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance with Republican Attorneys General” and the article detailed the cozy–and highly unethical–arrangements whereby  state Attorneys General are conspiring with, and carrying the baggage for, fossil fuel companies that have “generously” contributed large sums to their campaigns.  They are suing the EPA and otherwise resisting federal regulations meant to protect air and water quality–purportedly on behalf of their states, but in actuality on behalf of their political patrons.

There are plenty of lessons we can take from these revelations. (I’d probably start with the premise that for-profit educational institutions should automatically be viewed with extreme suspicion.) Certainly, these revelations are more evidence–as if we needed it–that the role of money in politics is toxic and corrupting.

However, I think there is a larger warning lurking in these, and similar examples of venal behavior. When we fail to recognize the different ethical obligations that attach to the different sectors–when every organization and every job is focused on a fiscal bottom line–the structures we have built to be complementary become competitive and corrupt.

We have spent the past thirty-plus years demeaning and “hollowing out” the enterprise we call government, and in the process, we have lost  the very concept of a public. “Public service” is an oxymoron. Well over half of our purportedly nonprofit/voluntary organizations are so totally dependent upon government grants and contracts that they have become unrecognized arms of the state. Meanwhile, we have idealized private enterprise and the private sector beyond recognition, delegitimizing the rules and regulations that are necessary to ensure a level economic playing field and a healthy, sustainable economy.

The result is on the front pages of our newspapers, and it isn’t pretty.