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Idaho’s University of Phoenix and nonprofit would be exempt from most government accountability statutes

Idaho’s University of Phoenix and nonprofit would be exempt from most government accountability statutes

Wayne Hoffman
August 1, 2023

If anyone is under the impression that the University of Idaho’s secretive purchase of the University of Phoenix will magically become less secretive after the deal is done, they’re sorely mistaken. Although Idahoans — even their state senators and representatives — have largely been kept in the dark about the deal, this is as transparent as it gets. And once the deal is done, all bets are off as to whether Idahoans will ever fully know — or even have a modicum of control — over what goes on between the state’s land grant university, the school’s newly-established 501(c)3, and its acquisition, the University of Phoenix. 

But that’s not all. The University of Phoenix would essentially be a creature of a state government agency without the burden of following state laws intended to prevent misuse of money or political favoritism. 

The state’s public records law applies to state agencies, which would not include Four Three Education, Inc., the name of the nonprofit the University of Idaho settled on after a series of missteps. The public records law applies instead to each “department, division, bureau, commission and board or any committee of a state agency, including those in the legislative or judicial branch, except the state militia and the Idaho state historical society library and archives.” 

So it appears the not-for-profit corporation created by the University of Idaho would be excused from responding to public records requests, the same as how your local food bank or church ia not covered by the public records law. The nonprofit would also be absolved of following the state’s open meeting law, the same as other nonprofit organizations. 

If someone is worried that the University of Phoenix is still pushing leftist ideology, as it is right now, the answers to that question won’t come in the form of asking about it via public records. Similarly, if there are concerns that the school is mismanaging its money or failing to deliver on its performance expectations, the school would not be compelled to respond to Idahoans who want copies of the school’s emails, correspondence, check registers, and other documents ordinarily available through the state’s public records law. 

There would be some public filings available for general scrutiny. Under federal law, Four Three Education, Inc. would need to file and make available its federal tax returns. There is also a smattering of federal reports that the University of Phoenix files and would need to continue filing with the federal Department of Education. But that’s pretty much it. The scrutiny that state agencies are subject to would not extend to the University of Phoenix or Four Three Education, Inc. 

Four Three Education, Inc. and the University of Phoenix would also be exempt from other government accountability statutes. The state law requiring competitive bidding by state agencies doesn’t apply to public or private charities, which is what Four Three Education, Inc. is. The laws that are intended to prevent misuse of public funds would also not apply to employees of either Four Three Education, Inc. or of the University of Phoenix.

By creating a nonprofit corporation that is exempt from state accountability, the University of Idaho is essentially creating a black box where no one can see what's going on. It's a recipe for corruption and abuse, and Idahoans have every right to be outraged. 

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