Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Custodian of Records

When the US Department of Education closed New College of California in 2008 for money-laundering, it was based on evidence gathered by whistleblowers and alumni, not by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Having launched its own investigation a year earlier, WASC yanked New College's accreditation for improper record-keeping, among other longstanding violations.

After thirty years of letting New College trustees skate on abuse of power and failure to comply with higher education standards of accountability, WASC repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to protect unsuspecting students and alumni from the consequences. With the closure of the school, WASC assumed it could finally wash its hands of the problems created by the long-term corruption of New College governance; that apparently is not the case

While alumni have adjusted to the fact that they were robbed forever of the opportunities to engage in communal activities associated with normal alumni associations, students who relocated or had their education interrupted are still vulnerable to the whims of those trustees who ran New College into the ditch. One of those trustees, Colleen S. O'Neal, is currently the registrar for transcripts, which gives her control over the records former students need for such things as employment and enrollment in other schools.

With that control comes the power to exact (or extort) fees for outstanding tuition or other costs, in addition to the $25 transcript fee itself. Given the fact the records are not public, and were officially called into question by the oversight agency WASC, the potential for abuse by someone with a track record of abusing power is all too obvious. When I heard from a former student recently that Ms. O'Neal, a member of the State Bar of California, told her to mail her a money order for $254 before she could get a copy of her transcript, I figured WASC had let us down once again.

On the New College website it is noted that New College School of Law transcripts are available from JFK University--the designated Custodian of Records. Why isn't there an independent, accountable custodian of records for all New College transcripts?

Ms. O'Neal, an attorney living in Santa Rosa, might not be running a scam, but without any oversight, how would we know? And when former students like the one I mention dispute owing the school money from years ago, who do they call?

On an ethical level, why should a trustee who disrupted or ruined their lives be empowered with the authority to re-traumatize them years later?

*The sordid history of New College's demise is available in paperback.