Document pokes a hole in U of I’s Phoenix timeline


The University of Idaho began considering buying the University of Phoenix in February — contradicting the U of I’s own narrative about the $685 million acquisition.

The U of I has said it began looking at a purchase in March, when the for-profit online giant “approached” U of I officials. The statement still appears on the U of I’s own “frequently asked questions” page on the controversial purchase.

But it’s inaccurate and incomplete.

A U of I administrator signed a confidentiality agreement, dated “as of” Feb. 2. Idaho Education News received a copy of this agreement through a public records request.

Meanwhile, U of I President C. Scott Green approached a State Board of Education member about a potential Phoenix purchase as early as Feb. 27, a State Board spokesman said Thursday.

On Thursday, U of I spokeswoman Jodi Walker said the U of I first met with Phoenix’s representatives in early February. However, she also downplayed the discrepancies in the timeline.

“We have been transparent and truthful in all of our discussions, including the timetable,” she said in a written statement.

What happened — and when?

Brian Foisy, the U of I’s vice president for finance and administration, signed a confidentiality agreement with Tyton Partners, the New York-based financial advisers engineering a sale on Phoenix’s behalf. The agreement was dated “as of” Feb. 2, and Foisy signed it days after U of I officials learned Phoenix could be up for sale.

The “as of” wording takes in the preliminary — but still confidential — conversations between the U of I and Phoenix, Walker wrote. The final version of the agreement was signed Feb. 21.

“Only after Feb. 21 did we have initial access to a limited amount of confidential information regarding the opportunity,” Walker wrote.

A few days later, early in the week of Feb. 27, Green spoke to Kurt Liebich, the State Board’s president at the time. Liebich suggested looking at the data surrounding a possible sale, and suggested bringing board members Bill Gilbert and David Hill into the loop, State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said.

On the evening of Friday, March 3, the three board members attended a “virtual data room,” set up by the sellers, Keckler said.

The process then picked up momentum — on the U of I campus and in State Board circles.

After reviewing preliminary information from Phoenix, the U of I began “more robust analysis and due diligence work” in mid-March, Walker wrote.

“Serious negotiations as to transaction terms did not begin until mid-March,” Walker wrote.

Some time after the March 3 meeting, Liebich, Gilbert and Hill discussed the Phoenix proposal. On March 22, the full State Board held the first of three closed-door meetings on Phoenix.

The State Board — which also serves as the U of I’s governing board of regents —gave the purchase the go-ahead during a May 18 public meeting.

Who signed an NDA — and who discussed the purchase beforehand?

Evidently, Phoenix’s agents had a written confidentiality agreement with only one person: Foisy.

Officials say no other U of I officials signed a non-disclosure agreement. Foisy’s agreement allowed him to bring in other university “representatives” for meetings and discussions. Under this arrangement, which Walker described as customary, the university is responsible for making sure employees adhere to the confidentiality agreement.

This is how other university employees — including Green, Provost Torrey Lawrence and acting legal counsel Kent Nelson — were in on the discussions.

Phoenix also got nothing in writing from the State Board.

Before their March 3 meeting with Phoenix, Liebich, Gilbert and Hill reviewed a confidentiality agreement, at the U of I’s request. The board members verbally agreed to it. Before the State Board’s March 22 closed-door meeting, the remaining five board members gave their verbal consent.

State Board executive director Matt Freeman attended the closed-door meetings as well, under the same confidentiality agreement.

In response to an EdNews public records request, the State Board would not release the confidentiality agreement. The U of I says the agreement falls under attorney-client privilege, Keckler said Thursday.

More reading: What do we know about the sweepstakes to acquire the University of Phoenix? An in-depth look

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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