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University of Arkansas votes against merger with University of Phoenix

Earlier this year, news broke that the University of Arkansas System was crafting a deal to buy the University of Phoenix. At the time, The Show spoke with the Arkansas reporter who broke the story about the deal — and potential concerns about it.

The University of Arkansas created a nonprofit entity to purchase the University of Phoenix for about $500 million. The deal could net the Arkansas system about $20 million a year.

The University of Phoenix’s checkered past — from lawsuits to federal investigations — was front and center for much of the faculty from the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville. In late March, the faculty senate signed a letter opposing the merger.

Late last week, the faculty senate and student government association of the University of Arkansas’ Little Rock campus drew up resolutions opposing the merger with the University of Phoenix.

On Monday, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees held a vote on the sale. Four trustees voted in favor of the deal, five against and one trustee abstained.

The Show spoke with Stephan Caldwell, the faculty senate’s chair and an associate professor of choral activities at the Fayetteville campus, about it.

The Show also reached out to the University of Phoenix and University of Arkansas about the deal.

Michael Moore is the vice president for academic affairs with the University of Arkansas. He said faculty concerns about the University of Phoenix’s reputation are unfounded today.

“Most of those concerns are tied to business practices around specifically marketing or recruiting and they really reflect the actions of prior ownership groups, there’s been a new team in place for years,” Moore said.

Moore also explained who would be shouldering of the liabilities attached to the University of Phoenix.

“The University of Arkansas System is not acquiring the University of Phoenix — there is an independent nonprofit called Transformative Education Services — that is the one that will take the loan and acquire the University of Phoenix and they will bear 100% of the responsibility for the loan and any potential liability,” Moore said.

Andrea Smiley, vice president of public relations with the University of Phoenix, says the merger will help keep Arkansas relevant. On the record, she offered the following statement: “There’s lots of research and narrative out there from employers who are looking for a workforce that’s skilled and a way to meet the technological advances that they’re having to accommodate or evolve to themselves to stay competitive and relevant in the marketplace and I think Arkansas recognizes that and is looking for a partner that’s been working in that space with that demographic for almost 50 years.”

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.