Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alma Mater

People who only knew more recently just would know of me as a student and graduate of Utah State University.  Those who know me longer or more closely know I am also a graduate of George Wythe University.  It is with mixed sadness and a sense of good riddance that I saw the announcement today in the paper that George Wythe University is closing.  George Wythe was an amazing experience engaging with big ideas, big ideals, and big dreams.  It was a deep dive immersion in Clean Skousen branded Mormonism, as much Christian Kabbalah mysticism as the DeMille's could push on everyone, and many good books.  It is also well described by Connor Boyack in the article above as "in essence, a glorified book club."  I might also describe it as almost a survivalist cult that focused on politics instead of on camping and food storage- building leaders not for today, but for after the coming global collapse of the current political order.

Attending George Wythe University for a time in my life represented the best way I could imagine to pursue the idealism I formed as a teenager.  Studying a broad range of subjects including history allowed me to challenge the political and social radicalism I had formed at home.  The thoroughness of how ideas were pursued gave me a foundation to re evaluate other beliefs later on in life as well.  Although I understand the school often moderated people's political opinions, mine swung from radical conservative to moderate liberal.  Truly I can call George Wythe my Alma Mater, or my nourishing mother.

But in a sense, George Wythe was an abusive mother to my soul as well.  If I had known how much they were lying when they claimed accreditation was close I would probably never have attended.  My freshman year they claimed all they needed for accreditation was a bigger endowment and that supposedly they had all the donors lined up but the money simply evaporated when the financial crisis hit the nation.  Later I found out they weren't even fundraising and hadn't been actively fundraising for quite a long time.  I also discovered that the math, science, and language programs were nowhere near the standards for accreditation.  The math and science lectures I attended were generally not allowed to even assign homework so as to avoid distracting from other coursework and the language classes, while very intense, even in several years of study didn't make it past what would be considered first semester material in a normal college course.  Dr. DeMille once said he didn't even care if we learned the languages we studied, expecting us to become smarter just from trying to learn them.  I also discovered they didn't even bother applying for accreditation until my senior year and after applying, failed to continue pursuing the application.

George Wythe also was abusive in misrepresenting the credentials of their professors and graduates.  Oliver DeMille only ever received a bachelors degree that wasn't a life experience or diploma mill degree, despite claiming to have a masters, JD, and PhD.  While I was there he represented those credentials as being valid.  The school also represented a notable politician as being their graduate when in reality he took no course work from them whatsoever and paid for a diploma mill degree from George Wythe as part of an agreement to promote the school.

The school was also abusive by engaging in a culture of extreme academic irresponsibility- both in sloppiness and dishonesty on their own part and in failing to teach me the basic academic expectations by which one avoids plagiarism.  One of my first experiences with Oliver DeMille was a taped lecture he gave at a homeschooling convention wherein he promoted his concepts of numerology and Kabbalic mysticism.  To avoid the embarrassment of saying such things on his own authority he attributed them all to Einstein.  As a naive teenager I assumed he was telling the truth; now I know he was telling absurd lies to promote his numerology.  Other professors occasionally incorrectly attributed their own ideas to other authors.  Once a professor even claimed a book was mistranslated when the text contradicted the professor's beliefs about an idea.  Some of these incidents I believe were intentional "white lies" meant to bolster the authority of the professor.  Some I think were simply mistakes that are easy to make when there is no expectation to cite your sources in any kind of rigorous manner.  When I presented my senior thesis for defense it was one of the only papers I bothered to cite sources because it had never been required of me before.  I didn't even know which style guide to use.  When I was before the board and I apologized for unintentional sloppiness in my many citations the President of the school told me he wouldn't have bothered with citing sources so much if it were his own paper.

I'll always remember George Wythe fondly and also with regret.  It was the place where I grew incredibly in a very broad but shallow study of an incredible array of subjects and became a much more well balanced person.  It was also a school that ate about ten years of my life which I was willing to give them based on extremely misleading claims about who they were and how likely it was that they would have finished the accreditation process by the time I graduated.  With how much dishonesty and illegality were commonplace at the institution I believe the school deserved to end this way.  But on the other hand, I don't regret the growth I experienced and wish it had truly been the school of statesmen it claimed.