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What is Biden's team hiding about its pledge to 'shut down' America's largest Christian university?

OpinionWhat is Biden's team hiding about its pledge to 'shut down' America's largest Christian university?

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In testimony before Congress, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona vowed to “shut down” Grand Canyon University (GCU), one of the nation’s largest and most successful private colleges – and the motive appears purely political. 

Secretary Cardona’s department has targeted GCU with a $37.7 million fine, the largest fine ever assessed in agency history. By comparison, the Department of Education fined Penn State $2.4 million for failing to report the sex crimes of Jerry Sandusky, and Michigan State $4.5 million for failing to address sexual assault committed by Larry Nasser. 

What is the basis for this extraordinary fine? The department alleges that GCU failed to properly inform Ph.D. students that they must take courses while completing their dissertations. This is a pretextual deceit. 

Grand Canyon University

The Biden administration has besieged Grand Canyon University with a coordinated effort among various federal agencies and politically motivated bureaucrats.

Cardona’s testimony, and public records requested by the Goldwater Institute, reveal that the government’s real motive is not any misconduct on the part of GCU, but animus toward private, affordable education that does not tow the statist party line.

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By any metric, GCU is a success story. Starting with less than 1,000 students and few course offerings, now the university has over 100,000 students enrolled across its programs, and offers degrees in every conceivable discipline. 

GCU is known for helping the low-income community of Phoenix. It has a successful record of graduating students into good jobs, including in the trades. It celebrates diversity of viewpoints and ideas. And most impressively, GCU has not raised tuition for their students in over 15 years. 

This is in stark contrast to the public universities plagued with extreme ideologies, bloated administrations and crippling student debt.

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One would think that the Biden administration’s Education Department would applaud this success. Instead, it has besieged the university with a coordinated effort among various federal agencies and politically motivated bureaucrats. 

When news of the government’s assault on GCU broke, the Goldwater Institute, where we work, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Education, seeking communications among senior personnel at the department and other federal agencies. 

Jessica Rosenworcel chairwoman

Secretary Miguel Cardona and Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, during a roundtable discussion at the Johnson County Central Resource Library as part of the Education Department’s “Back to School Bus Tour 2023: Raise the Bar” campaign in Overland Park, Kansas, on Sept. 5, 2023. (Arin Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

We also sought the number of student complaints that were submitted regarding GCU’s graduate programs. Tellingly, no records of complaints have been produced. Instead, the department produced 800 pages of records that were almost entirely redacted. 

What is the federal government hiding, and why won’t Department of Education officials inform the public about how and why it imposed the largest fine in its history on one of the nation’s largest, best-performing private schools?

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Cardona’s congressional testimony, and one record that was produced, suggests the reason: the federal government’s decision to attack GCU is not an enforcement decision, it is a political one. 

When the agency imposed the fine on GCU, it did so with a ceremonious press release – odd by any measure, and especially odd for government authorities who should impartially conduct investigations and bring only bona fide enforcement cases. 

We now suspect that press releases were done in coordination with the White House. In emails between Shin Inouye, the deputy assistant secretary for communications at the Department of Education, and senior department officials, Inouye is coordinating the department’s messages with the “WH,” or White House. 

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In one Oct. 6, 2023, email, Inouye asks senior officials about a document he is “sending to the WH,” and seeks a “[l]ast call for edits.” Inouye then states, “WH cleared. Sending to reporters now.” 

Miguel Cardona, US secretary of education, speaks during the National Safer Communities Summit at Hartford University in West Hartford, Connecticut, US, on Friday, June 16, 2023. The Biden administration is taking steps to make it easier for young people, particularly those affected by violence, to receive mental health services, part of a move to bolster federal gun-safety efforts following the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that was signed into law last year. Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg

Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the National Safer Communities Summit at Hartford University in West Hartford, Connecticut, on June 16, 2023. (Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these communications were redacted. So, it is unclear what sort of “clearance” department officials charged with investigating and prosecuting cases would seek from the White House. 

What is clear, however, is that politicians and political appointees appear more concerned with directing a press narrative than with fairly adjudicating legal allegations. This should alarm every American.   

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Cardona’s testimony that he aims to “shut down” GCU reveals that the federal government has no interest in allowing private colleges and universities to provide successful alternatives to the higher education status quo. 

And because the department is refusing to provide information about this extraordinary fine, the public is still left wondering why the Biden administration isn’t focused on improving higher education in America, but instead on a politically motivated prosecution that is only harming students trying to get a good and affordable education. 

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Stacy Skankey is an attorney at the Goldwater Institute, which has filed suit against the Department of Education to compel production of public records. 

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