TUCSON, Ariz. — The president of Arizona’s second-largest university continues to face criticism over a side job as a board member for the company that operates DeVry University, a for-profit school facing a lawsuit from the federal government alleging that it misled students about job prospects.
The University of Arizona’s Ann Weaver Hart took the position with DeVry Education Group in February and has since faced opposition. But she says her job on the board will help non-traditional students who aren’t able to attend UofA.
DeVry says it hired Hart to better serve students and because she has firsthand experience as a non-traditional student.
Hart obtained her college education while raising children, a path many students at DeVry also take. DeVry is paying Hart $70,000 plus $100,000 in stock annually. It’s among several for-profit schools that have come under government scrutiny for its practices.
Arizona lawmakers and university faculty say the appointment is a conflict of interest and tarnishes the UofA name.
“I think there’s a genuine conflict of interest. She appears to think that there’s no overlap between the students that DeVry is targeting and this student body at the University of Arizona. But I just don’t see any evidence that that’s true,” said Jake Harwood, a communications professor. “Essentially she’s selling the University of Arizona name and personally profiting from it.”
But Hart says she’s not backing down. In a statement, Hart said she is using her personal time and has complied with policies set by the Arizona Board of Regents. The board did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
“The DeVry Group asked me to be on the board for my knowledge and expertise, not my affiliation with the UA. I would venture that my position would not mean anything to a DeVry student. The UA is a world leader in research and student instruction, and this appointment will not affect that,” she said.
A group of 20 state legislators have signed a letter urging Hart to resign from the presidency over her refusal to leave the DeVry board.
DeVry said hiring Hart better serves students, many of which are over 25 years old.
“She appreciates the challenges our students face juggling work and family with their studies. That is an invaluable perspective for a board member and will help us in meeting our students’ needs,” spokesman Ernest Gibble said in a statement.
Hart’s hiring was announced in February along with that of University of California Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. But Katehi resigned from the board within a week after coming under pressure by a California lawmaker and consumer groups who said she shouldn’t lend her school’s credibility to DeVry.
The Federal Trade Commission sued DeVry in February, saying it misled consumers about students’ job and earnings prospects.
The FTC alleges DeVry deceived students in its advertising and marketing by claiming that 90 percent of its graduates actively seeking employment landed jobs in their fields within six months of graduating. It also said DeVry was misleading when it claimed its graduates had 15 percent higher incomes one year after graduation on average than graduates of all other colleges or universities.
DeVry called the complaint “without a valid legal basis” and said it would vigorously contest it.
The government has increased its scrutiny of for-profit colleges in the past few years, launching fraud allegations against Corinthian Colleges, among others. In November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a nearly $100 million settlement from Education Management Corp., accused of illegally paying recruiters and exaggerating the career-placement abilities of its schools.