Green: U of I has ‘a couple different paths’ on Phoenix

The University of Idaho could soon unveil a new plan to buy the University of Phoenix, U of I President C. Scott Green says.

But Green is offering no details, and says the behind-the-scenes talks are ongoing.

“There is a desire to continue to move this along,” Green told State Board of Education members Wednesday morning. “We’re trying to figure out what that’s going to look like. … We do believe there are a couple different paths available.”

Three weeks ago, the Senate rejected a bill designed to revamp the controversial $685 million purchase — and work around the political and legal questions that plague the plan. After the vote, two Republican legislative leaders said the U of I’s bid to acquire the enormous online for-profit university was all but dead.

More reading: Click here for our exclusive, in-depth coverage of the proposed Phoenix purchase.

On Wednesday, Green said the U of I has continued to talk with Phoenix and its owners, Apollo Global Management, while also talking with State Board, legislators and Gov. Brad Little’s staff.

It’s not clear how the U of I and Phoenix might restructure the deal.

The original plan, endorsed by the State Board in May, would have placed Phoenix under the umbrella of a nonprofit aligned with the U of I. Several attorneys, including Attorney General Raúl Labrador, contend that this plan is unconstitutional.

The Senate bill would have sidestepped this legal dispute, creating an independent, quasi-public body to oversee Phoenix. But the creation of this body requires legislative approval — and lawmakers adjourned the 2024 session last week.

The Phoenix debate was a focal point for the U of I during the 94-day legislative session. In an email to U of I employees and students Tuesday, Green touted several Statehouse gains, including funding for expanded medical programs, money for staff pay raises, and funding for the Idaho Launch postsecondary program. In the email — and in his State Board comments — Green blamed the Phoenix vote on politicking. Both times, he did not elaborate.

“There was a lot of political maneuvering and a lot of misinformation, or new information, depending on how you’re looking at it, that we had to cut through and respond to,” Green told State Board members.

The Legislature’s pushback was directed not only at the U of I, but the State Board, which operates as the university’s governing Board of Regents. It was the State Board’s approval that set the Phoenix purchase in motion — to the chagrin of many lawmakers, who complained of being cut out of the process.

And while State Board member Kurt Liebich again voiced his support for the deal — and Green’s vision of partnering with an online university — he asked about the U of I’s hopes of closing a deal early this year. “Where do we go from here?” Liebich asked.

Any new plan would surely slow down any Phoenix acquisition.

The original State Board-approved agreement contained a voluntary opt-out date — allowing the U of I or Phoenix to walk away from the purchase on May 31. There is no way to meet that deadline, Green said, but he said all parties remain committed to the purchase.

‘We talk about the Vandal family a lot’

In November 2022, many U of I students left campus, as investigators searched for leads in the grisly off-campus slayings of four students.

Saloni Khetan had no such option. A native of Nepal, Khetan stayed on campus through the fall semester — and said she felt safe there.

“It was wonderful to see how the community came together,” Khetan told State Board members Wednesday.

Starting two days of meetings on the Moscow campus, State Board members heard from panels of U of I students and staff, who reflected on the turbulent events of the past few years.

The State Board of Education’s meeting will continue Thursday with a discussion of college and university tuition and fees. Board staff have recommended an across-the-board 3% increase for in-state undergraduate students. Check back Thursday for full meeting coverage.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning became something of a “transactional relationship,” said Brian Fowler, a clinical assistant professor in the U of I’s Department of Movement Sciences. Students are more engaged now, he said. Now, the challenge comes with increasing enrollment, and more students in classrooms.

Spencer Martin, the director of the U of I’s marching band, said too many past administrators have viewed the U of I as a jumping-off point. Martin praised Green and Provost Torrey Lawrence for staying the course.

“They didn’t bail on us through all this stuff,” he said. “There is an investment in us, and especially in the students.”

Sophia Mangini — a graduate student in accounting, and a Moscow native — said her college career began during the pandemic. From the start, she said, the community support has been “incredible.”

“We talk about the Vandal family a lot and I think that really resonates with me,” she said.

Board interested in learning outcomes for four-day districts

One simmering K-12 issue remained on the back burner Wednesday. The State Board will decide on new minimum instructional days or hours for public schools at a later date — possibly at its June meeting. 

In the meantime, the Department of Education is collecting data on trends around four- and five-day school weeks, state superintendent Debbie Critchfield told the board. The new minimums are most likely to affect districts on four-day calendars. 

On Tuesday, Nampa became the largest school district to adopt a four-day calendar. More than 90 districts and charters have made the switch, including at least two others — Emmett and Teton — this year. 

State Board members are curious whether four-day districts are performing well. Vice President William Gilbert asked Critchfield to supply data showing whether learning outcomes have improved in the “tremendous” amount of districts that went to four days. “We should have reasonable trend data on their outcomes pre- and post-those shifts.” 

Liebich said he’s “really interested” to know whether top-performing states in student achievement have common instructional hours. 

Lawmakers directed the State Board to set new minimum days or hours by Aug. 1 and implement them no sooner than July 1, 2025. That mandate comes from House Bill 521 — the sweeping school facilities and tax cut law directing $1 billion to school districts next fiscal year — and a follow-up law. The board can introduce the standards over a multi-year period.

Kevin Richert and Ryan Suppe

Kevin Richert and Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business.

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