by Chris Horne
Dr. Todd Alan Rickel, the University of Akron’s Vice Provost and the Dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, has a lot of work experience. He is a member of the CFIRA and NLCFA. He’s served as the CEO at Bluerock Partners Inc., been a senior adviser at RAZR Ventures, a partner at Conservaco LLC, and spent a year and seven months as chairman of Rager Media. In 2012, he even appeared on an academic panel titled “Exploring New Frontiers in the Community College RN to BSN Megatrend” at the Community College Baccalaureate Association 12th Annual International Conference in Philadelphia.
But you won’t find any of that on his curriculum vitae.
However, you will find four years as an EMT, almost two years as a resident hall director, two years as a substitute teacher, that time he welcomed novelist Kurt Vonnegut to Kent State, being the editor of a newsletter and his becoming an Eagle Scout in 1986.
Also, there are three “scholarly presentations” that show up on his vita but not in the programs for their respective conferences.
Well, let’s clarify this because it really depends on which CV you’re viewing. There’s the original vita, the academic’s version of a resume, he used when he applied for the dean position and then there’s an updated CV, which was posted online by UA after he was hired. This second one swaps the three disputed conference presentations with three radically different (but verifiable) presentations.
Then there’s his work history, which matches on both CVs but doesn’t line up with his LinkedIn page, which features positions and companies left off his application to UA but also inserts employment gaps into the timeline that don’t exist on his CV.
He may later explain—we left a message for him Friday afternoon—that the discrepancies between his CVs and LinkedIn page are only innocent mistakes, a statistically improbable number of innocent mistakes—or a byproduct of being terrible at CVs. Even still, the more time you spend with his vita, the harder it is to ignore how unusual a candidate he seems to be for the position. The bulk of Rickel’s career has been spent with failed (Anthem College), failing (University of Phoenix), controversial (White Hat Management) and curious (EFA Education LLC) for-profit education companies.
The scope of his expertise makes it difficult not to wonder how he became the vice provost of a nonprofit, state-run university, with an annual salary of $295,000 after Stanley Silverman, the former permanent dean of that college, made just $185,968 in 2010.
A little Googling goes a long way.
This information should not shock the University of Akron’s administration.
For one, each search committee is tasked to “conduct reference checks and verify credentials,” according to UA’s Hire Process Checklist (updated October 2014). Their recommendations are passed up the food chain for other reviews. In this situation, that may have only involved Office of Academic Affairs, the President and the Board of Trustees, who make the final approval.
Secondly, education blogger Stephen Dyer posted about Rickel’s “curious resume” on May 19 at 10thPeriod.com, in a follow up to his lengthy, in-depth blog questioning whether the university should have entrusted the position to White Hat Management’s former “Chief Learning Officer” in the first place.
By then, however, Dr. John Zipp, president of the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), says it was old news. In March, the faculty union presented their concerns to Provost Mike Sherman and special assistant to the president Paul Herold, who is also assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees. Specifically, the union asked for an explanation from the search committee,
led by then-Vice Provost Dr. Rex Ramsier, about how several seeming inaccuracies did not impact the search for a new dean.
Friday, Zipp confirmed the union last received correspondence about Rickel from the administration in late July.
The Vita is Vital
While the resume matters for other jobs, the curriculum vitae is essential for academic positions. It is a record of who the academic is; it’s their public face.
“(T)he CV may be the most frequently and closely read of all the documents that candidates send. For search-committee members who often must assess 100 applications in a short time, the CV offers the kind of holistic picture that few other documents can match,” Joshua R. Eyler writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
This is why punishment for falsifying one’s vita is sometimes so quick and harsh. The integrity of the institution and the education it provides is at stake when a professor’s vita is suspect.
Case in point, Zipp says an assistant professor from Akron’s main campus was fired earlier this year because she omitted from her CV a job where she worked less than a year. In 2007, M.I.T.’s Dean of Admissions, Marilee Jones, was forced to resign after officials learned she had fabricated her credentials 28 years earlier and never corrected it. Last year, in Florida, a professor at Polk State College was arrested and charged with grand larceny for the salary he collected by using falsified degrees. It happens even in college sports. Days after being hired as head football coach at Notre Dame, George O’Leary resigned because he’d lied about getting a Master’s Degree in Education.
A Tale of Two CVs
There are two versions of Todd Rickel’s vita online, both hosted by the University of Akron. One, dated November 11, 2014, follows his cover letter for the dean position, and the second vita follows a link in President Scott Scarborough’s announcement that Rickel—along with VP of Advancement Larry Burns and Chief Information Officer Godfrey Ovwigho—had been hired.
The pre-employment version lists “scholarly presentations” that would have made sense for a candidate applying to become dean of an applied science and tech college at a university whose focus has become sustainability and retention under a new president. Specifically, “The Sustainable University” panel at the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Academic Resource Conference in April 2013 and “Technology, Retention and Sustainability in Practice” at the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) National Conference in April 2012.
After he was hired, those were replaced with “Partnering Without Tears: Co‐Sourcing for Student Success and Mutual Profit” at the 2012 WASC conference and “Beyond Facebook: Creating the NextGen Social Media Communities of the 21st Century” at the 2012 USDLA National Conference. Same conference organizations but very different panels. The titles in the pre-employment CV can’t be found in either the 2013 WASC conference program or the 2012 USDLA conference program, but on the updated CV, the listed presentations are in the programs for their respective conferences.
A note about “Co‐Sourcing for Student Success and Mutual Profit”: Co-sourcing is a cost-saving business practice that matches “outsourcing” and “insourcing” so companies can “partner” inexpensive extra people with existing personnel trying to fill growing needs. The university’s reliance on part-time, non-tenured faculty could be an example. So would eliminating 54 positions in the Division of Student Success then hiring an “outsource entity” to bring in success coaches that point students to services already provided on campus. Rickel was on the review committee that selected TrustNavigator for the success coaching bid.
Before 2012, Rickel went almost a decade without a single scholarly presentation—that one, in 2003, was for a conference hosted by his employer, the University of Phoenix—but prior to that, he had a few in the late 1990s, each mixing education and anthropology as he worked towards his Ph.D in Cultural Foundations of Educations. Though he lists five presentations between 1996-1998, he leaves out at least one: “The One Room School: Implications for Contemporary Educational Reform” with Nancy A. Ayres at the History of Education Society’s annual meeting in Philadelphia in October 1997.
Business is personal
His academic credentials are one thing and his business experience is another.
Little of his business experience makes it to either his pre-employment CV or post-employment CV. But his LinkedIn page, which hasn’t been updated to reflect his work at UA, is rife with it, particularly efforts to position himself as an expert in crowdfunding, real estate, healthcare, etc. for investment companies.
That includes being a senior adviser for RAZR Ventures, a company that tries to attract crowdfunding for high-dollar projects under new SEC regulations that allow qualified investors to get a stake in the project instead of the Kickstarter usual, a T-shirt, stickers or CD. The company only features three projects on its website, including a $35 million effort to fund “The UFO Hotel.” Rickel is listed among the three team members on the website and is the only contributor to the firm’s blog, where he can be reached at $Doctor@razr.com. Though his hiring at UA was made official on February 11, 2015, he continued to blog for the company through May 24.
The most recent experience listed on Rickel’s two CVs is as Vice President at EFA Education LLC, a Florida-based company that hires “agents” to provide “international student enrollment services” to connect students around the globe to online and on-campus programs. It doesn’t appear on his LinkedIn page at all. His eponymous consulting service, Rickel Education Group LLC (REG), sits atop the experience section. We found 15 registered trade names associated with REG, including My Sim College, My Web Education and National Association of Career College Recruiters.
Further into his employment history, another discrepancy surfaces. According to both CVs and his LinkedIn page, Rickel left White Hat Management, the controversial Akron-based charter school management company, in July 2006. Likewise, both CVs and LinkedIn page show he started at Herzing University Online in October 2008.
But on the CVs, Rickel says he went straight from White Hat to Knowledge Investment Partners (KIP) in July 2006 and then, after spending two years and three months as KIP’s “Executive in Residence,” he went to Herzing in October 2008. No gaps.
Rickel’s LinkedIn page puts him at KIP, a company that invests in for-profit education ventures, for just eight months. Further, there is an unexplained employment gap from July 2006 to September 2006 that is covered on his vita by KIP. The LinkedIn timeline looks like this: White Hat Management (11/04-7/06) to Knowledge Investment Partners (9/06-4/07) to CEO at Bluerock Partners Inc (5/07-9/07) to Chairman at Rager Media (6/07-12/08) to Herzing University (10/08-4/12).
The parts of Rickel’s CV that check out read like reasons to question whether for-profit education models can work. Going in reverse chronological order: Anthem Education Group filed for bankruptcy in August 2014; Herzing University settled a lawsuit with the state of Minnesota in 2013 over an unaccredited program it offered there and then convert to nonprofit status this past January; White Hat Management has been sued for financial information by some of the boards that ran its schools; and the University of Phoenix has laid off more than 900 people and closed 100 campuses.
Aware of his job history and the differences in his two CVs, some faculty are asking: What was the search committee searching for when they found Todd Rickel?
One last thing about Rickel’s academic presentations
The 2012 Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) conference program shows Rickel participated in the panel he lists in his updated CV—“Community College Baccalaureate Degree Inflation: Careful What You Wish For.” It replaces the “Higher Education Partnerships: Mutual benefits across two and four year institutions” panel that does appear in his first CV but can’t be found in the 2012 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) annual convention program.
According the conference program, Rickel was part of another panel at the CCBA. Though both were moderated by Dr. James E. Samels, the President and CEO of the Education Alliance, who spoke at UA in October 2011, but Rickel leaves this one off his vita: “Exploring New Frontiers in the Community College RN to BSN Megatrend.”
On January 9, the university closed an RFP to create an online RN-to-BSN pilot through the nursing program. The sole bidder was Academic Partnerships, a for-profit education company that builds online degree-granting programs with their own instructors and curriculum they market under the name of partner universities. The company was founded by Texas entrepreneur Randy Best, who is known for landing large contracts that serviced No Child Left Behind during George W. Bush’s administration. Those family connections continued with Jeb Bush, who recently resigned his position as a paid adviser to Academic Partnerships, worth $60,000-a-year and a “small amount of stock.”
Before he was suspended by and then resigned from DePaul University, Scarborough negotiated the sale of Barat College’s “academic assets” to Higher Ed Holdings, which is another Randy Best company. Later, as the University of Toledo’s chief financial officer, he introduced officials to Academic Partnerships, which asked for 70 percent of tuition revenue for building and marketing two online master’s degree programs. Faculty there killed the deal then the university built their program in-house, a path that actually seems to uniquely fit Rickel’s job experience.
The contract between the University of Akron and Academic Partnerships had not been signed as of July 31 and the proposal does not list a specific percentage the company would receive of tuition. However, assuming their cut would be similar to what they wanted at Toledo (70 percent) and using as a ballpark Academic Partnership’s enrollment figures at the University of Texas-Arlington (6,385 in 2012) for the RN-to-BSN program ($8,940 in the UA proposal), the deal with the University of Akron is worth upwards of $54 million with the company getting around $37.8 million of that. The university would get around $17.2 million, plus the boost in enrollment and the state’s per-student contribution that goes along with it.
UA’s RFP for the RN-to-BSN online program states:
This is a pilot project for Nursing at this time but the University reserves the right to expand this program into other disciplines and colleges or to transition it into a permanent program if the University feels it is in its best interest.
Should the university want to offer math or science or English composition online through Academic Partnerships, this clause suggests officials would not be required to solicit other companies with another RFP for separate subjects.
According to a signed letter from UA’s records compliance officer, Rickel was on the review committee for the RFP, which closed on January 9, 2015.
But the UA Board of Trustees did not approve Rickel’s hiring until their February 11, 2015 meeting. He didn’t even give his job talk on campus until January 20.