CHARLES TOWN – In the latest of a string of lawsuits filed against Mountain State University since it lost its accreditation, a group of students alleges the school was a ‘criminal enterprise’ engaged in racketeering, devouring public funds without providing students an adequate education.
The complaint, filed this week in Jefferson County Circuit Court by the Skinner Law Firm on behalf of 14 nursing students, alleges that MSU and several subsidiary corporations “were engaged in a widespread criminal enterprise consisting of a pattern of racketeering activity and a conspiracy to engage in racketeering activity involving numerous racketeering acts during the past ten calendar years.” The suit further alleges that these acts included mail and wire fraud, violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act, fraud, breach of contract, and other violations of law.
The complaint calls Charles Polk, the recently fired president of MSU, the “ringleader” of the criminal enterprise and argues that he pocketed millions by intentionally misleading students while encouraging them to take on enormous student loan debts.
Phone calls requesting comment from MSU officials had not been returned as of press time.
The suit cites a report from the Moody’s credit ratings agency that noted that MSU accepted 100 percent of applicants, together with a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education that indicated that only 2.5 percent of bachelor’s students had earned a diploma six years after enrolling. That report does note, however, that only 5 percent of the university’s total fall enrollment for 2003 was covered by the federal statistics it used, and that similar schools question the validity of federal measurement criteria.
The same report compared the size of university budgets to their president’s salaries and found that Polk was taking in a larger portion of his school’s budget than any other university president. His $1.8 million salary accounted for 3.5 percent of the total budget, a far larger portion then the second runner-up, the salary of which accounted for 2.4 percent of the total budget.
“Dr. Polk encouraged lying, dishonesty, wrongdoing, unethical conduct, immoral conduct, misleading representations, false promises, and deceptive practices among MSU faculty and staff in order to reap vast financial rewards for himself,” the suit alleges, citing his book Apex Thinking which contains passages expressly advocating “the deliberate misuse of power,” lying, scapegoating, and instilling fear in subordinates in certain situations.
The 14 students allege that they were victimized by aggressive and misleading marketing that caused them to incur massive student loan debts leading either to no degree or to a degree that is essentially worthless. University officials knew that their nursing program’s accreditation was likely to be revoked, but they nonetheless promised prospective students that they would earn degrees quickly, would be eligible to sit for nursing exams, and would move on to lucrative careers in the health care industry, the students allege.
Even after the nursing school’s accreditation had been revoked, students were still not informed of the development, and it was only through rumors that they became aware of the situation, the complaint alleges.
When the students spoke to the school about the impending loss of accreditation, they say they were lied to again.
“MSU repeatedly assured (the students) that no matter what occurred with the accrediting bodies that each of (them) would still be able to graduate and sit for licensing exams,” states the complaint, adding that none of the students will in fact be able to sit for licensing exams because of the revoked accreditation.
The lawsuit states that the students lost years of wages while pursuing degrees that were, in the end, worthless, suffered from stress which aggravated medical conditions, and were left saddled with tens of thousands in debt each. It asks the judge to formally find that MSU has violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations – or RICO – act, and to issue an injunction forcing them to stop racketeering behavior.
The suit asks for civil damages with an amount to be determined by a jury, including treble damages equal to three times what MSU would normally be liable for. It also seeks punitive damages, and for the judge to order the school to “disgorge” itself of all profits it has gained through racketeering.