Does the American Military University (AMU) teach torture to its students or has it taught torture in the past? Wikileaks
Before I can actually broach the question I pose above head on and submit to you the facts I have that will allow you to draw your own conclusions based on proffered evidence, authenticated documentation and testimonial correspondence, I must digress and as briefly and yet as thoroughly as possible, seat this story within the historical context that gave rise to the necessity of my interrogatories, investigations, questions and subsequent answers to the question at issue expressed in the title of this piece. This, by necessity, must include a brief overview of my initial investigative work that then led to an understanding of the rise of the American Military University, its sources of revenue, its current student population, college curriculum and its financial business model, for it is a for-profit corporation and as such is driven by one main fiduciary and insatiable duty: profits and profit maximization.
This goal is in direct opposition to the needs of working people to receive the public benefits and affordable costs associated with pubic institutions and a public education. Public education such as community colleges, don’t operate for profit — nor do non-profit colleges and universities. They operate for students and the institutional stakeholders they serve, as well as the communities they assist. For-profit universities will argue they operate for the best interests of students, but their legal and fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders and this means assuring stock prices rise.
Once as a reader you have an understanding of the nature of this proprietary college (college run for profit) coupled with the documentation I will provide, you will then be able to come to your own conclusion as to the central question at issue: Does the American Military University teach torture to its students or has it taught torture in the past?
Stumbling onto AMU
I hadn’t heard of the American Military University (AMU) until I wrote a piece for Counterpunch.com late last year entitled, A Neo-liberal arts education (Weil, D., Diploma Mills and Debt Peonage A Neo-Liberal Arts Education, October 15, 2009: http://www.counterpunch.org/weil10152009.html).
I was sherlocking around investigating what are called ‘proprietary universities or colleges’, meaning, they are for profit institutions and are not public institutions. In fact, Westlake College paid a substantial fine of $7 million dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by whistleblowers for alleged illegal business practices (ibid). This was the subject of my story.
The San Francisco Weekly (which I quoted in my article, referenced above) had mentioned the American Public University System, which I was later to learn was connected directly to the American Military University. The SF Weekly article stated:
“Now instead of becoming a dental assistant or truck driver, you can take out federal grants and loans to obtain a $33,000 online bachelor’s degree in “Homeland Security” from the American Public University System, a for-profit college that consists largely of a Web site” (ibid).
Shortly after my article appeared in Counterpunch.com, I received an e-mail from the President and Chief Executive Officer, Member of the Board of Trustees and a Member of the Board of Directors of the American Public University System (APUS), Mr. Wally Boston. Mr. Boston began his e-mail to me by stating:
“I read your post entitled A Neo-Liberal Arts Education. I saw that you cited an inaccurate article from the San Francisco Weekly regarding the American Public University System (APUS). APUS is much more than a website and it’s too bad that the writer of that article did little research about us” (e-mail).
Many corporations have ‘media sensitive’ personnel that track any mention of their organization or name and though I am not sure this was the case with APUS, my interest was piqued by the rapidity of the response by Mr. Boston to my article; so I saddled up and set out to find out just what the APUS was. According to Mr. Boston, in the initial e-mail he sent me, he indicated that:
“The American Public University System is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, the same organization that accredits Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Ohio State University and 1,000 other traditional institutions. We are in good standing with our accrediting body. Our 1,000+ faculty members have relevant academic credentials and real-world experience in the fields in which they teach. Many of our professors also teach at on-the-ground universities across the country and around the globe. Of our more than 50,000 students, over 40,000 serve on active duty with the U.S. armed forces. Many more serve in law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency response, and as public K-12 teachers” (e-mail).
A quick internet search of the American Public University System (APUS) led me directly to the American Military University (AMU) site, for it was the American Military University that was the foundation and catalyst for the growth and development of what has now morphed into the American Public University System (APUS). And thus begins the story.
Just what is the American Military University (AMU) and what is its connection to the American Public University System (APUS)?
The American Military University (AMU) is the brainchild of Jim Etter. Mr. Etter served twenty-one years in the United States Marine Corps. In 1966 Mr. Etter enlisted in the Marines and served three years as a forward observer. He served in Vietnam (1967-1968) and received two purple hearts during his tour. After completing his Bachelor degree in 1973, he returned to the Marine Corps as a Naval Flight Officer, completing over 2,000 flight hours in the F-4 Phantom. Etter is a graduate of the Naval Fighter Weapons School, Top Gun and he retired from the Marine Corp in 1991. It was at that time that he created and launched the American Military University.
The American Military University (AMU) was, according to Mr. Etter’s partial biography at (http://jamesetter.com/?page_id=2) started on a picnic table in his basement in 1991. Etter, in an interview with Today’s Campus Online, spoke about his motivation in starting the university:
“I had seen thousands of Marine officers reading and studying on their own with no way to wrap a degree around their studying. Discharged from the Marine Corps in 1991, I was determined to bring a college education to them. Soldiers and sailors have limited time and money. And they are deployed or transferred frequently. On my basement picnic table I undertook the design project of my life” (Interview with Jim Etter, http://www.todayscampus.com/minute/load.aspx?art=1827).
AMU was initially founded as a graduate school for military studies, but the instruction and learning as it were, was delivered in a correspondence school model. Wikpedia notes the date the college was conceived as June 11, 1991 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Public_University_System and this is verified through my correspondence with Mr. Boston.
The date is important for the timing of the birth of the university couldn’t have been better. August 2, 1990 was the beginning of what was to be called “The Gulf War’. This war went on officially until February 2, 1991. In 1991, among the navy, army and marine Corp there were 1,985,555 active duty military personnel (Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004598.html). With many veterans returning from the war while others remaining permanently deployed overseas, these facts coupled with the rise and growth of the Internet afforded entrepreneurs with ties to the military access to a market of potential students of close to 2,000,000 and substantial opportunities to open ‘for-profit’ colleges to serve them.
The ‘market’ for troops
The burgeoning market of returning veterans and thousands of active duty military personnel in 1991 provided a potential financial windfall from such an entrepreneurial venture and the profits promised to be enormous. In fact they are and steadily growing.
In 1993 AMU officially started its operations by offering its initial classes to 18 students, who took a total of 23 courses. Mr. Etter established the University by offering a single Masters Degree in Military Studies and then successfully guided and nurtured the school to a position where it was able to offer 50 degree programs at the Master’s and Bachelor’s level, before Etter retired from the University in 2004.
At the time of its conception, AMU had finagled itself as one of the first American degree-granting institutions operating exclusively at a distance (APUS 2008 Catalogue- Information-History) The APUS catalogue notes that the university was opened to accommodate the special needs of military students who moved often and served under uncertain conditions. AMU was initially a correspondence program that could use mail, e-mail, phone and fax and allow those in the military to have 24/7 access to their on-line classes and thus their ‘university education’ (APUS 2008 Catalogue).
Although Etter fails to mention this in any interviews I’ve read, due to the timing of the end of the Iraq War, the permanent deployment of troops and the return home of many Gulf War veterans, there can be little doubt that AMU was also increasingly interested in getting a piece of the GI Bill and Military Tuition Assistance Program being offered to returning veterans to attend college. Both these programs are paid for with taxpayer funds and thus neo-liberal economics, the transfer of public funds to private for-profit institutions, was a necessary precondition for AMU and its future growth.
Wally Boston in his e-mail to me mentioned that:
“…… our first degree, a (sic) MA in Military Studies, was specifically tailored by the school to provide an education that would be helpful for the career of a military officer with concentrations in Air Warfare, Naval Warfare, Land Warfare, and Amphibious Warfare. Jim Etter had been an instructor at Marine Corps University and knew instructors at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA and the Naval Postgraduate School. These programs were residential and not offered via distance education. Jim hired instructors from these schools as adjuncts to teach courses within their realm of expertise. The curriculum and the reputation of the instructors attracted the initial students. Those students spread the word about the program to others and we steadily grew. As we expanded instructors and students, we added courses and degrees that suited their backgrounds. Degrees were added in Strategic Intelligence, National Security, Military History, Emergency Management, etc. Few traditional schools offer these degrees and those that do are generally not close to military bases” (E-mail, Wally Boston).
The issue of accreditation
In June of 1995, AMU became nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). From there the university bloomed, and in January 1996 AMU introduced its first set of undergraduate programs. By 1998, the university had transitioned from a correspondence school to an online format, or ‘distance learning’ university conducted over the internet – a “website”.
2002 saw AMU expand drastically and morphed into what is now known as the American Public University System. Etter then established American Public University and in 2006, APUS was granted regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Public_University_System).
In order to accelerate the explosive growth of these for-profit universities that cater specifically to active duty military forces and returning veterans, the certification or accreditation of the schools becomes a large issue, for like a Wall Street rating agency, they give legitimacy to the colleges and deem what degrees are valid, what units are transferable, and what passes the smell test for potential employment of graduates.
Public institutions, such as your local community college or state college or state university are subjected to high standards by certification boards, but not so for many for-profit institutions, thanks to government deregulation, murky transparency and lax oversight. Online for-profit schools, such as American Military University, have relocated their headquarters to specific states to obtain certification from regional boards with less demanding standards than those imposed on many public institutions – all this according to interviews with for-profit-college officials and accrediting agencies.
APUS/AMU and Neo-liberal economics: The G.I. Bill
In a recent Boomberg.com article entitled, Marine Can’t Recall His Lessons at For-Profit College, author Daniel Golden looks closely at the rise of the for-profit universities and colleges that have experienced rapid growth in the last two decades. The article specifically looks at the for-profit colleges that target the military/industrial complex. Golden says these colleges are raking in millions by recruiting soldiers as students. The question he poses is: how valuable is the education they are receiving?
In the article, which was developed in Bloomberg.news and then published in Business Week in December 2009, Golden notes that due to the GI Bill:
“Since 1947 the Defense Dept. has subsidized college tuition for active-duty service members, a benefit intended to boost recruitment and retention. State universities, community colleges, and private nonprofit colleges have traditionally dominated the market. They provide classes on bases under agreements with the military services, and their programs undergo federal review” (Golden, D., For-Profit Colleges Target the Military: Online universities are raking in millions by signing up soldiers as students. But how valuable is the education they’re delivering http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_02/b4162036095366.htm).
The initial G.I. Bill (officially titled the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, P.L. 78-346, 58 Stat. 284m) was an omnibus bill that provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as G.I.s) as well as one year of unemployment compensation. It also provided many different types of loans for returning veterans to buy homes and start businesses. Since the original act, the term has come to include other veteran benefit programs created to assist veterans of subsequent wars as well as peacetime service. The success of the 1944 G.I. Bill prompted the government to offer similar measures to later generations of veterans.
The Veterans’ Adjustment Act of 1952, signed into law on July 16, 1952 offered benefits to veterans of the Korean Conflict who served for more than 90 days and had received an “other than dishonorable discharge.” One significant difference between the 1944 G.I. Bill and the 1952 Act was that tuition was no longer paid directly to the chosen institution of higher education. Instead, veterans received a fixed monthly sum of $110 from which they had to pay for their tuition, fees, books, and living expenses.
The 1952 decision to abort direct tuition payments to schools came after a 1950 House select committee uncovered incidents of overcharging of tuition rates by some institutions under the original G.I. Bill in an attempt to defraud the government (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G.I._Bill). The new bill was a severe blow to for-profit institutions that once received their payments directly from the state. Now they would be forced to bill G.I.’s who received stipends to go to college and this would mean far more oversight, transparency and inherent regulation.
Years later, after many legislative gyrations, the Post 911 G.I Bill was passed and its ‘benefits’ became available starting in 2009. The US Department of Veteran Affairs states:
“The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay your tuition based upon the highest in-state tuition charged by an educational institution in the state where the educational institution is located. For more expensive tuition, a program exists which may help to reimburse the difference. This program is called the “Yellow Ribbon Program”. For more information on the Yellow Ribbon Program click on the link below” (US Department of Veteran Affairs,http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/CH33/Post-911.htm).
Under the new The Post-911 GI Bill, for-profit colleges would now be paid directly, as they had been before 1952. Neo-liberal economics had now set up a feeding tray for GI Benefits to be directly transferred to for-profit universities and colleges with a simple recipient signature. This public policy change, of course, seemed to ignore the 1950 House select committee that uncovered incidents of overcharging of tuition rates by some institutions under the original G.I. Bill in an attempt to defraud the government – the purpose of the 1952 regulations. In fact, The Post-911 G.I. Bill defanged government regulation and built in direct payments to proprietary military colleges as a form of deregulation, what the original 1952 bill had attempted to curb. In one felt swoop, this neo-liberal use of government by elite policy makers allowed for the escalation and growth of for-profit military targeted institutes of “higher education”.
Profiting from decades of wrangling with the G.I. Bill, for-profit colleges specializing in online degrees are starting to make substantial inroads in eating away at the public and non-profit college market. One of the big reasons they can do this are the politics of neo-liberalism: online programs don’t require federal contracts and aren’t subject to the same regulatory scrutiny by federal regulators that community colleges are. Many of them feature “add an egg” courses and fast-food degrees, or entice service members to enroll in the institutions with freebees, like giving away textbooks or free laptops. Another reason they can profit is that their students can take courses from a cave in Afghanistan or desk in the Green Zone in Iraq. Then of course there is the fact that community colleges and non-profits are facing severe cut-backs due to the last thirty years of “drowning government in a bathtub.”
As I noted in my Counterpunch.com article the real story when it comes to all the military oriented for-profit colleges and universities concerns the neo-liberal public policy changes that opened up the military-education market. In 1999, under President Bill Clinton, the Defense Department broadened eligibility for reimbursement to include more for-profit colleges in the pool. Then the Department of Defense increased funding in 2002 from 75% to 100% of tuition up to the $250-per-credit ceiling (ibid). These public policy changes favoring relaxing entry and funding for military proprietary colleges coincided with the rise of Internet courses and the fiscal crisis’ that were beginning to come home to roost and that as a result, financially threatened many public institutions. All of this was to be good news for AMU and APUS, and to be fair, for their for-profit competitors.
According to Business Week, today for-profit schools account for a staggering 29% of college enrollments and 40% of the half-billion-dollar annual tab in federal tuition assistance for active-duty students. These are our tax dollars that go to private for profit colleges and their CEO’s and major stockholders, not to build community based public institutions. Because profit is the primary motive, education of course gets compromised and at a very high price.
Greg von Lehmen, chief academic officer of the University of Maryland University College, the adult-education branch of the state school and one of the oldest and biggest providers of education for military personnel, says the shift is leading to educational shortcuts and overzealous marketing on the part of the for-profit college and university segment (ibid).
von Lehman notes:
“In these schools, the rule is faster and easier. They’re characterized by increasingly compressed course lengths and low academic expectations. One has to ask: Is the Department of Defense getting what it is seeking?” (ibid).
Of the dozen colleges with the biggest active-duty enrollment, five are for-profits that conduct most or all of their courses online. Three — American Military University, Phoenix, and closely held Grantham — charge $250 a credit, or $750 a course, which allows them to receive the maximum reimbursement allowed from U.S. taxpayers without service members having to pay any out-of-pocket tuition. On the other hand, publicly funded community colleges, the target of massive budget cuts, offer classes on military bases for as little as $50 a credit (ibid).
Although the Business Week report took a skeptical look at many of the on-line, for-profit universities and colleges the author, Daniel Golden, seemed to go out of his way to consistently laud the work of APUS/AMU. For example, Golden quoted Robert Songer, the director of lifelong learning at a military camp, Camp Lejeune as saying that AMU and APUS “do a very good job taking care of students,” but he then went on to note that several schools have become a concern on military bases because of practices that exploit soldiers and the federal subsidies they are promised. Songer also stated:
“Several online for-profit schools have become a concern on military bases because of practices that exploit soldiers and the federal subsidies they are promised
Some of these schools prey on Marines. Day and night, they call you, they e-mail you. These servicemen get caught in that. Nobody in their families ever went to college. They don’t know about college” (ibid).
They recruitment them as kids to join the military and then once they’re out, they recruit them into military oriented for-profit colleges and universities.
Distant learning degrees at a disadvantage?
Not all employers are thrilled with the colleges either. Mike Shields, a retired Marine Corps colonel and human resources director for U.S. field operations at Schindler Elevator Corp., said he rejects about 50 military candidates each year for the company’s management development program because their graduate degrees come from online for-profits; Schindler Elevator is the North American operating entity of Schindler Holding AG in Hergiswil, Switzerland, the world’s second-largest elevator maker. According to Shields:
“We don’t even consider them. For the caliber of individuals and credentials we’re looking for, we need what we feel is a more broadened and in-depth educational experience” (ibid).
He does hire service members with online degrees for jobs on non-leadership tracks, he said.
Daniel Golden noted in his article for Business Week that:
“When service members do earn degrees from online for- profits, human resources executives at Fortune 500 firms are often reluctant to hire them, said Cohen, citing three where he has placed candidates. “There are some firms that are heavily credential-oriented,” he said. “McKinsey & Co. is one of them. They might balk. Amazon might balk. Shell Oil is another one.” McKinsey, Amazon.com and Shell declined to comment.
Bradford Rand, chief executive of Techexpo Top Secret in New York, which runs job fairs for defense contractors recruiting recent veterans, said a degree from an online for- profit is a disadvantage. “You have two people of the same caliber, one has a degree from a real college, one has a degree from a computer, I’m going to favor the one from the live college,” Rand said. “It’s more verifiable, more credible.”
The Defense Department plans to subject online programs to review by the American Council on Education in Washington, which already monitors face-to-face classes on military bases, defense officials said. The new online standards, which the department began to develop in 2004, have taken longer than expected and are a year away from being implemented, Tommy Thomas, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said in an e-mail” (ibid).
Judging by the rapid response to my own article in Counterpunch.com by Wally Boston, I can only infer that the American Military University and the American Public University System monitor closely the news that comes out by the media, corporate or otherwise. They do this, one would logically conclude, to engage in “damage control” for as we will see, they have a great deal to gain and a lot to lose if negative media is not countered directly.
The Neo-liberal economics of the American Public University System’s (APUS) business plan
What is clear is that the only thing ‘public’ about the American Public University System is that it is publicly traded in the form of stock on the NASDAQ; the rest of the ‘public’ part is little more than an oxymoron and an outright invitation to misrepresentation. The for-profit college has managed to cobble together a neo-liberal business plan that socializes the costs of their ‘online education’ while privatizing their gains in the form of higher shareholder profits and CEO salaries. And so far, it’s working out quite well, for investors and CEOs.
APUS has distance learners studying in 50 states and more than 100 countries. APUS, through members American Military University and American Public University, now offers 76 degree programs and 51 certificates. APUS has an open admissions policy and so it does not require ACT or SAT scores. At their website the company says:
“We offer an impressive curriculum, with more than 70 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including homeland security, intelligence, education, and emergency management” (APUS, about us http://www.apus.edu/about-us/).
At AMU one can get a degree or certificate in:
- Civil War Studies – (Grad Cert)
- Competitive Intelligence – (Grad Cert)
- Computer Systems and Networks – (Undergrad Cert)
- Corrections Management – (Undergrad Cert)
- Counter Terrorism Studies – (AA)
- Criminal Justice – (BA, BS, Grad Cert, MA)
- Criminal Justice-Capstone Option – (MA)
- Cybercrime Essentials – (Undergrad Cert) Asymmetrical Warfare – (Grad Cert
- Explosive Ordnance Disposal – (AS, Undergrad Cert)
- Emergency and Disaster Management – (BA, Grad Cert, MA)
- Emergency and Disaster Management-Capstone Option – (MA)
- Homeland Security – (BA, Grad Cert, MA, Undergrad Cert)
- Homeland Security-Capstone Option – (MA)
- Hospitality – (AA)
- Terrorism Studies – (Grad Cert)
- Terrorism Studies – (Undergrad Cert)
- Transportation and Logistics Management – (BA, MA)
- Transportation and Logistics Management-Capstone Option – (MA)
Just to name just a few degrees and certificates offered by AMU.
APUS/AMU goes on to state that:
“We have two administrative offices – our headquarters are in Charles Town, WV and supporting administrative offices are in Manassas, VA” (Facts, http://www.apus.edu/about-us/facts.htm).
The university employs 450 staff to run its various locations.
Taking private education ‘public’
In November 2007 Etter took APUS ‘public’ on the NASDAQ in an initial public offering of the stock through William Blair & Company, L.L.C. Piper Jaffray & Co. was acting as co-lead manager, and Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, ThinkEquity Partners LLC, BMO Capital Markets Corp. and Signal Hill Capital Group LLC at the time were acting as co-managers for the offering. The stock, company trading symbol known as APEI, was trading at the time of the offering at $31.20 after pricing 4,687,500 shares at $20.00 per share (American Public Education (APEI) IPO Surges Higher Streetinsider.com November 9, 2007 http://www.streetinsider.com/Hot+List/American+Public+Education+(APEI)+IPO+Surges+Higher/3107170.htm).
On March 18, 2010 the stock was trading at $46.73. This is a whopping 150% increase in three years despite the collapse of the economy. You can thank neo-liberal economics, such as the 911 GI Bill for this hefty surge in the stock price as more and more public monies are being siphoned off by the corporation and dispersed as profits to both CEO’s and major shareholders. The company, according to Hoovers on-line is now worth an estimated $149,000,000.
With the increase in the military budget throughout the last twenty years and the proliferation of war throughout the eight continents of the world, APUS/AMU has found a very large and attractive market in active duty military personnel and retiring veterans. In short, war is very profitable not just for the armament industry or the Halliburton’s, KBR’s, DynCorp’s and the Blackwater’s of the world; but it has also been a boon to ancillary for-profit businesses that add to the cost of the military expenditures like APUS/AMU and similar for-profit colleges that target military personnel. Remember, unlike during the 1950’s when returning G.I’s. took public monies and primarily went to public colleges and universities under the 1947 G.I. Bill; the for-profit university model is now a formidable player in siphoning off public monies needed to strengthen and build strong community schools. They instead are competing with public colleges and universities for taxpayer subsidies, and their getting them.
How is an education at APUS/AMU subsidized?
Wally Boston was very helpful in providing me answers with many of my questions concerning the day to day operations of the college and its economic business model. According to Boston:
“…all of our military students utilizing tuition assistance for their undergraduate degree are able to earn a degree and not have any loans. Between 5-7 percent of our students use benefits from their GI Bill to attend. This number is tougher to measure because the Montgomery GI Bill pays the student who in turn pays us. The Post 911 GI Bill pays the college directly, (emphasis mine) but we are only three months into the commencement of that program. With both of those programs, the benefits are more than enough to cover the cost of attending our institution without incurring student loans. As previously stated, 19 percent of our students utilize FSA. While loans are part of their aid package, the lower cost of our tuition means that all of their loans are subsidized loans versus unsubsidized loans which are used to cover tuition at higher priced colleges that exceeds the annual federal subsidized loan limits. The remaining 14-16 percent of our students either pay us directly or their employer pays us” (e-mail, Boston).
When I spoke to Beth LaGuardia, vice president of marketing for APUS, she verified Boston’s facts. For a student wishing to attend APUS/AMU, 5-7% of their tuition is paid for by the GI Bill, 60% comes from what is referred to as the Military Tuition Assistance Program (MTAP, paid for through the Department of Defense), 19% is paid for by FSA student loans and 14-16% is employer or individual based payment.
Business Week, in its report on military for-profit universities noted the cost to taxpayers:
“Taxpayers picked up $474 million for college tuition for 400,000 active-duty personnel in the year ended Sept. 30, 2008, more than triple the spending a decade earlier, Defense Dept. statistics show. While degrees from any accredited college provide a boost toward military promotion, credentials from online, for-profit schools can be less helpful in getting civilian jobs, especially in a tight labor market” (Golden, D., For-Profit Colleges Target the Military: Online universities are raking in millions by signing up soldiers as students. But how valuable is the education they’re delivering http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_02/b4162036095366.htm ).
All true: but what is usually kept secret is that these subsidies are not being used for building affordable public or community colleges for working communities in their communities; they are instead underwriting the costs and profits for Wall Street publicly traded companies called ‘universities’ done on desktops, thus disinvesting in traditional public American colleges, universities and the communities they are designed to serve. And they are doing so while at the same time graduates are finding that these ‘online’ degrees are more often than not, little more than ‘diplomas’ cut from the back of cereal packages.
Marketing and recruiting costs for APSU/AMU
Military enrollment at exclusively online for-profits of all stripes is soaring. According to Business Week, American Military University has 36,772 active-duty students, up from 632 in 2000. It has the most Air Force and Marine Corps students of any college, profit or, non-profit or public (ibid). When I spoke with Beth LaGuardia she told me of the 53,000 students enrolled at the APUS universities, 46,000 were from the military (phone conversation with Beth LaGuardia).
During one of our conversations I asked Ms. LaGuardia about the amount of money APUS spends in one year for marketing, recruitment and enrollment. She indicated to me that it was between 11-14%, with the following breakdown: 20% went for print marketing such as trade publication and the Military Times, 35% went for online marketing on the internet, 20% went for radio, direct mail and TV marketing while the other 25% went for trade shows (conversation with Beth LaGuradia).
LaGuardia told me that “relationship marketing”, or the marketing of the college by word of mouth from successful graduates, was responsible for 50% of the enrollment in the college and she mentioned that the system was very proud of this type of marketing for it kept the costs of advertising down. This is the recruitment, done in the showers, mess rooms or otherwise, that is done by veterans and active military.
Do the marketing reductions get translated into better student services and learning? It’s doubtful. For profit schools, whether they are military oriented or by they simply aimed at the general population, exist for one purpose: to make a profit and to increase share holder value. They do this by minimizing the cost to the corporation of ‘delivery’ of their product, in this case the product is ‘a so-called education’. This means charging maximum tuition, holding down the cost of teacher wages, benefits, cost of curriculum, investment in student resources, staff salaries, development and real estate costs and reducing student services to minimal internet access and an online library.
On the other hand, community colleges and non-profit institutions of higher education spend very little if anything on marketing costs. As public institutions they don’t make profits, nor are they in the business of making them. Their tuition is far lower, as indicated above, and their teachers and classified staff far better compensated than those similarly situated in for-profit colleges. Community colleges also have ‘real’ classes, not simply virtual on line ‘second life’ learning. They also employ community members like janitors, maintenance personnel, law enforcement, admission services employment, library personnel, resource centers with counselors and deans and a host of jobs within student services. Yet perhaps more importantly, they offer a communal face to face culture where students are able to learn collaboratively and enjoy and participate in a public campus life, not simply stare into a screen.
Who runs the APUS/AMU?
The university system, both the APUS and AMU, are run by a board of trustees. The board is a nine member board made up of military, business and academic personnel. As the college is private and for-profit, the board is not elected by the general public. It is elected by the shareholders.
Under the Board of Trustees is the actual senior management — the Board of Directors. The board of directors is mostly made up of former Major Generals, many of them involved in the Vietnam and Iraq wars, among other military conflicts. There are former capital investors and marketing, admissions, strategic planning and investor relations type of people on the board. The Board of Directors is basically retired military and business types, which is logical. The university system is a military business that trades on the NASDAQ with the sole intent of boosting share prices and profits. One would not think it would have Nobel Laureates or Pulitzer Prize winners on the board. These are skilled businessmen and military personnel.
I did not research how much the Board of Directors is paid. However, one can assume they are paid quite handsomely and no doubt own or are entitled to stock in the company. As the objective of this article was not a detailed forensic analysis of the financial webs within the university system, I did not research corporate pay. Suffice to say if board compensation is like the majority of members of publicly traded companies, the members are doing quite well – especially with two illegal wars going on at one time and the stock price going through the roof.
When I talked to Beth LaGuardia about the faculty at both APUS and AMU she told me they were adjunct faculty, mostly part-timers with no union representation and no benefits or tenure. This is not unusual in the case of for-profit colleges and universities. Most of them, from Strayer to The Phoenix University look to use part-time faculty and avoid any costs associated with benefits and health care. This way they keep the cost of salary and benefits down as well as set up a labyrinth immune to unionization. Without tenure and with only part-time work, the company knows that unionization, though not impossible, is very hard to accomplish for part-time faculty who work often in isolation, their only contact to other faculty being the internet.
A cursory glance at the AMU faculty shows some are graduates from Strayer University, another proprietary for-profit online college; others are from the University of Phoenix, still another; while others herald from the University of Texas, Oklahoma, Webster University, Rhode Island College, The University of Albany, and even one graduate from Columbia University. Many of the faculty are actual graduates of AMU or APUS. This too is not unusual as many for-profit proprietary schools hire their own graduates. Some faculty at AMU have PhD’s and some faculty have MA’s or only MS’s.
Dr. Larry Forness
One faculty member is of particular interest. His name is Larry M. Forness and is his activities as a “teacher” for AMU aim straight at the heart of this article and will go a long way to help answer the question at issue. According to the AMU website:
“Dr. Larry Forness is a former United States Marine, with expertise in intelligence and unconventional warfare. He provides consulting services to various units of the U.S. Military. He has also worked with special units of our allies, particularly Israel and South Korea. He was a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), American Legion China Post #1 (operating in exile), and has been extremely active in planning and supporting POW/MIA missions” (http://www.amu.apus.edu/community/faculty/bio/380/larry-m-forness).
I first heard of Larry M. Forness from a whistleblower who told me I should look at Wikileaks, a website for whistleblowers. There, I was told, I would find a lecture given by Dr. Larry M. Forness to a class while a teacher at AMU. The whistleblower told me that the lecture was on torture and that the Forness gave it to a class he taught at American Military University online.
Does the American Military University (AMU) teach torture to its students or has it taught torture in the past?
So we now come full circle to the heart of this story and we ask the question as I pose above: Does the American Military University (AMU) teach torture to its students or has it taught torture in the past.
To answer this question, I am providing the website link that has the entire lecture by Dr. Forness so you can read it and make up your own mind. I was told by Wikileaks that:
“…the doc is certainly legit and almost certainly a military distance education lecture” (private e-mail with Wikileaks editor).
You can find what is entitled: American Military University Torture Guide, by Sean McBride at: [political-research], Thu, 20 Dec 2007 08:56:00 -0800
Here is a brief summary of the documentation:
“Summary Lecture on torture techniques by Dr. Larry Forness of the American Military University.
The document explains the rationale behind torturing prisoners, torture methods, and a justification for ignoring international law. Forness advocates the injection of truth serums, threatening to inject Muslim prisoners with pigs’ blood, and torturing detainees’ friends and family” (ibid).
The document then continues with Forness’ online ‘lecture’:
“TORTURE, INTERROGATION AND INTELLIGENCE
What I want you to keep in mind as you read this is that we are to assume the following situation: We have somebody in our custody, who we believe has knowledge of an impending terrorist attack, and we think that attack could be VERY serious, but we have less than five days to find out what this person knows about the impending attack. In this piece, I’m going to specifically address using drugs known as “truth serums” as the means by which we get the intelligence that we need. Some would call this a form of torture. I want you to know that I don’t glorify torture for its own sake. I accept it as a means to survival.
We are supposed to be a nation of laws. If you are not a United States citizen, don’t expect protection of our laws. Therefore, no terrorist — whether running free or in custody – is entitled to any protection under any international law to which we are a signatory or law of the United States.
Most of what follows is what I have learned from Israelis, South Koreans, Russians, as well as Americans. I want to address several fallacies of interrogation.
Fallacy #1. Torture never works, because a prisoner will tell the interrogators whatever they want to hear just to stop the torture. That’s based on a faulty assumption.
Fallacy #2. Any prisoner can outwit his or her interrogators. This doesn’t work with interrogators who are members of a free society, and have very good to excellent intelligence sources to confirm and verify what a prisoner says.
Fallacy #3. Torture as a means of interrogation is generally not accepted throughout the world. In point of fact, within the last three years, more than three-quarters of all countries in the world have practiced torture as a means of interrogation.
Fallacy #4. These things called “truths serums” don’t really work. They do work to varying degrees of success” (ibid).
Forness rebuts what he calls the ‘four’ fallacies, one by one in the document and then ads:
“What you don’t want to do is “stack” scopolamine with sodium pentathol and sodium amythal. Stacking” means adding one drug on top of another before the previous drug(s) has/have washed out of the system. You stack on somebody, you’ll kill them.
When time is not a consideration, and when used in conjunction with skilled interrogators on a prisoner who has not been trained to resist the effects, sodium pentathol and sodium amythal will get you the truth in approximately 10% to one third of the cases. When the truth absolutely positively has to be there within five days, forget them – use scopolamine injected into the spine.
I don’t honestly know if we have used any of these truth serums on Saddam Hussein. Too bad if we didn’t. My clearance doesn’t extend that high. For those of you who don’t know — and to oversimplify it — there are four different levels of security clearances. They are: secret; top-secret; top-secret/code word; beyond top-secret/code word. The words “code word” could be something like UMBRA. So if I had that level, I would be cleared top-secret/UMBRA, which means I would be allowed to see or hear anything that is secret, top-secret, and — separately — anything that a classified under the code word UMBRA (ibid).
Finally, waxing nostalgic, Forness recalls General Pershing:
“In 1909, before World War I, there were a number of terrorist attacks on the United States forces in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, by Muslim extremists. General “Black Jack” Pershing was the appointed military governor of the Moro Province. He captured 50 terrorists and ordered them to be tied to posts for execution. Since all the prisoners were Muslim, he asked his men to bring two pigs and slaughter them in front of the prisoners. He then proceeded by dipping bullets into the pig’s blood. In the process he executed 49 of the terrorists by firing squad. Then, the soldiers dug a big hole in the ground and dumped in the terrorists’ bodies and covered them in pig’s blood and viscera. The last man was set free.
For 42 years there was not a single Muslim attack anywhere in the world. His rationale was quite simple and effective. Since a radical Muslim is willing to give his life for his religion in a Jihad war, killing him would not make much difference.
He would be seen as a martyr (shahada). But the General knew that all Muslims believe in eternal life after death with 72 virgins waiting for them in paradise. He also knew that those that embrace Jihad usually prepare themselves physically and spiritually in case they die in combat. Since the pig is considered forbidden food (haram) in Islam, Pershing introduced this variable to thwart their hopes to enter Allah’s kingdom. The pig’s blood automatically nullified any prior purification by contaminating their bodies.
My interrogation technique is quite simple. I follow General Pershing’s example and order a pig to be slaughtered near the prisoner. The blood of the animal run’s freely toward the prisoner’s feet. He will immediately lift his knees to avoid making contact with it. I fill a syringe with the pig’s blood and threaten to inject him in the arm. The prisoner will talk — and quickly. Fair? Depends on your perspective. Effective? Extremely.
What I say here are my own opinions, based upon fact. They are not to be construed as the policy or official position of APUS. As always, you are free to accept or reject anything I say, and verify it by any means you wish.
Thank you” (ibid).
I wrote Larry Forness on two occasions. Once last year and once again this year, asking him if he would confirm the online lecture that was uncovered by Wikileaks. I never heard from Mr. Forness. I was not surprised; I never thought I would.
I then wrote Beth LaGuardia who had been kind enough to speak with me on two occasions about APUS. Here is my e-mail to her from January 2010:
“Hello, Beth my name is Danny Weil and we spoke a few months ago. I have e-mailed Larry Forness, a faculty member at AMU with a request for an interview. Twice I e-mailed by (sic) both times he has failed to reply.
My concern is below. Can you tell me if Mr. Forness is still using this curriculum or if this report is not true? It appears on Wikileaks as well as in other spots on the Internet and I wish to get some clarification as to the veracity of the report and if this is still part of the curriculum” (e-mail January 2010).
I waited but did not hear from Beth so I wrote Wally Boston, the president of APUS, by e-mail on January 13th, 2010 and sent him a copy of the ‘online lecture’. I informed him I had written on two occasions to Larry Forness and to Ms. LaGuardia and wished to confirm the veracity of the document as well as to inquire if this type of instruction was still going on at the American Military University.
Mr. Boston responded immediately and put me in touch with Ms. LaGuardia. She sent me the following e-mail on January 15, 2010:
“Regarding the report from Dr. Forness, I have some feedback for you. The information from Wikileaks was taken out of context from a discussion posted several years ago in his classroom. Dr. Forness shares his personal opinions about current articles on a weekly basis to challenge ideas and stimulate intellectual discussion in the classroom. He notifies students that they are welcome to read/not read these opinions, as they are not opinions of the University or material that will be used or tested in the course. Dr. Forness doesn’t use this content in the classes today (nor has he for years). As an academic institution, APUS is fully supportive of the freedom of faculty to express their opinions in the classroom regardless of their political persuasion” (e-mail, January 15, 2010, Beth LaGuardia).
Please contact me if you need anything further.”
I did contact her, by phone. I wanted to see if I understood her position. She confirmed the documentation from Wikileaks once again. So, I asked her, if this was an online lecture or an interpretation of an article? I was confused. And it was given to students in the classroom but only as an ‘opinion’ and not part of the curriculum? And how was the ‘lecture’ out of context? Somehow this didn’t make sense.
When I spoke with Ms. LaGuardia by phone, on January 22, 2010 over the concerns that I had and the ambiguity inherent in her e-mail, she told me that the lecture was a ‘prompt’ in an effort to engage debate and opinion among students. She also confirmed once again it was posted online but said it was a matter of academic freedom and continued to argue that it was an opinion paper by Dr. Forness as a concept to engage class discussion. So how was it out of context?
She also stated that it was no longer used in classes and she mentioned that she thought that “we’ve gone beyond this”, indicating to me that we were well beyond the initial phases of the war in Iraq and the controversies surrounding Guantanamo, torture and the treatment of detainees. In other words, this was the past; we don’t do this any more.
On February 15th, 2009, Scott Horton, a reporter for Harper’s Magazine reported:
“Army Private Brandon Neely served as a prison guard at Guantánamo in the first years the facility was in operation. With the Bush Administration, and thus the threat of retaliation against him, now gone, Neely decided to step forward and tell his story. “The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong,” he told the Associated Press. Neely describes the arrival of detainees in full sensory-deprivation garb, he details their sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution, the first hunger strike and its causes, torturous shackling, positional torture, interference with religious practices and beliefs, verbal abuse, restriction of recreation, the behavior of mentally ill detainees, an isolation regime that was put in place for child-detainees, and his conversations with prisoners David Hicks and Rhuhel Ahmed. It makes for fascinating reading” (Gitmo Guard Tells All, February 15, 2009, Harpers Magazine, http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/02/hbc-90004409).
Early this year, the same Scott Horton, writing in Harper’s spoke about the three detainee deaths that miraculously were reported as suicides.
No, Ms. LaGuardia is either doing poor public relations or she doesn’t know the facts. With the Obama administration protecting Bush era politics of detainment and torture, there is no telling how many screams are not being heard as you read this.
As to Mr. Forness, he has never contacted me. When I shared Ms. LaGuardia’s e-mail, above with the Wikileaks editor, he simply wrote me this:
“….in no way an acceptable response” (e-mail, Wikileaks).
I think he is right. You’ll have to make up your own minds and perhaps do your own inquiries. The document circulated does ominously say this, though:
“Although the document was likely intended for Forness’ students, it was subsequently circulated within the US military, where it came to the attention of the Wikileaks whistleblower Peryton, who also disclosed Guantanamo Bay’s main manual Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedure (2004), which was authenticated publicly by Joint Task Force Guantanamo” (http://email@example.com/msg10357.html).
Mr. Forness, could you please come forward? We have some questions we would like to ask you.
According to Ken Silverstein, writing for Harper’s Magazine, April 2010:
“For companies whose livelihood depends on military spending, the United States would seem to have entered a Golden Age. Annual defense expenditures have reached $640 billion, almost double (adjusting for inflation) the post-Cold War low in 1998. Over the next eight years, the ‘realists’ of the Obama administration plan to increase outlays by 5 percent over the already bountiful sums provided by George W. Bush” (Silverstein, K. Mad Men, April 2010, Harper’s Magazine).
That’s a lot of money being drained out of public coffers. One can only wonder how much of the pie the for-profit military proprietary colleges and universities like the American Public University System and American Military University will get as military spending balloons to heights unheard of in the history of the world, decimating civilian life and laying wake to massive federal and state deficits.
I received the following from Wikileaks sometime in March of this year.
FYI: US Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks
This document is a classified (SECRET/NOFORN) 32 page U.S.counterintelligence investigation into WikiLeaks. “The possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to Wikileaks.org cannot be ruled out”. It concocts a plan to fatally marginalize the organization. Since WikiLeaks uses “trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whisteblowers”, the report recommends “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site”. [As two years have passed since the date of the report, with no WikiLeaks' source exposed, it appears that this plan was ineffective].
As an odd justification for the plan, the report claims that “Several foreign countries including China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe have denounced or blocked access to the Wikileaks.org website”. The report provides further justification by enumerating embarrassing stories broken by WikiLeaks—U.S. equipment expenditure in Iraq, probable U.S. violations of the Chemical Warfare Convention Treaty in Iraq, the battle over the Iraqi town of Fallujah and human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay…