A state organization representing many area for-profit colleges issued a letter today criticizing Florida State College at Jacksonville’s perceived antagonism toward the proprietary education sector.
The letter, which was written by the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges, is titled "We’re Disappointed About Public College’s Conduct." Executive Director Kathy Mizereck said the letter was sent to FSCJ’s Board of Trustees and state leaders in Tallahassee. It also ran as an advertisement on Page A-5 of today’s Times-Union.
"Private sector institutions pay taxes, rather than relying on them," the letter said. "As taxpayers, we are also shocked that publicly employed FSCJ leaders would use tax payer funds to finance a private war to undermine an important member of the higher education system …"
Mizereck said the note was written in response to a public records request filed by Keiser University for e-mails between FSCJ administrators and Wall Street short-sellers.
"There has always been an education turf war between public and private colleges, but I’ve never seen anything at this level," she said. "This is a really concerted effort to give info to short-sellers to harm the for-profit industry."
In the e-mails, an account linked to FSCJ President Steven Wallace trashed for-profits in a 2009 note to Gilchrist Berg, a Jacksonville-based hedge-fund firm manager.
"All right, my friend. Here is a bunch of good stuff to get you started in your exploration of greed, corruption and predatory schemes among Florida’s proprietary and for-profit career ‘colleges,’" the e-mail said. "The new technical college we will launch on 8/1/09 is designed, in part, to drive the sleazebags out of our region."
Those e-mails are also the basis of a lawsuit filed last month by Keiser against Wallace and Susan Lehr, the school’s vice president of government relations. The letter appears to be the first public show of support for Keiser since the suit was filed.
Wallace and Lehr were unavailable to comment about the letter. But the college filed a motion late Friday to dismiss the lawsuit and a motion to strike against Keiser.
FSCJ General Counsel Jeanne Miller said in a news release that the suit has no merit and is a "politically motivated effort" to silence FSCJ’s call for greater accountability in the for-profit industry.
The release also included a still from a PowerPoint presentation Miller said was made by Keiser Chancellor Arthur Keiser for a July meeting of the Career College Association.
It includes a picture of Uncle Sam and a bold-faced exclamation calling for the sector to go to "war."
"This slide makes it clear the for-profit industry is trying to buy off politicians, while attacking anyone who speaks out about their problems," Miller said in the release.
Keiser officials weren’t available to comment.
"I sincerely hope for the possibility of a better relationship with FSCJ," Mizereck said. "I think it’s important that all of us get along because there’s a place for all of us in the state’s higher education system. But we’re not willing to sit quietly by when someone says they want to put us out of business."