Yesterday the Daily Caller reported that it had obtained documents showing that top aides to Iowa Democrat Senator Tom Harkin collaborated with a special interest group and a law firm with a financial interest in the matter to edit the written and oral testimony of a witness at a key investigative hearing last year. The witness was Josh Pruyn, a disillusioned former employee of the for-profit Westwood College online.
Senator Harkin was investigating for-profit schools. There are also questions about a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report commissioned by Senator Harkin that was also unveiled at the hearing in which Pruyn testified. Mr. Pruyn testified about the high pressure tactics used to enroll students in the school, but the fact that he was coached by people who would be financially impacted by his testimony undermines his credibility. The Daily Caller has emails and document revisions showing the roll of the James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanich law firm in shaping Mr. Pruyn’s testimony. His testimony was also influenced by officials of the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).
The article reports:
“Despite TICAS’s relatively small $2.3 million budget in 2009, the group was tremendously influential in pushing strict new regulations on the for-profit colleges, finalized June 2, with its former president, Robert Shireman, joining the Obama administration in 2009 as a top deputy to Education Sec. Arne Duncan.”
The danger here is the concept of using the government (Congress and the White House) to pick winners and losers in a particular area of the economy. This is more Chicago thuggery entering into the business world. If for-profit colleges can be put under scrutiny by Congress and made to look bad, colleges that have administrators and professors that support the current administration can increase their share of students and profitability. Keep in mind that even though many private colleges are not declared as ‘for-profit’, they have teachers to pay, buildings to maintain, etc. If some of the competition is eliminated, they may be more successful and a little freer to raise their student tuition and fees without worry about being undercut by for-profit schools.
There may or may not be something to the charges against Westwood College, but there is definitely something wrong with tampering with a witness preparing to testify before Congress.