Amid Controversy, President Quits Labor College

January 25, 2010

William Scheuerman on Friday quit the presidency of the National Labor College, effective immediately, just a week after he announced a major expansion plan for the college -- including a controversial partnership with for-profit education providers.

The college isn't planning a formal announcement until Tuesday, when an interim president will be named. But Scheuerman briefed the staff on Friday and some of those with knowledge of the situation contacted Inside Higher Ed, speculating that the departure was related to concerns about the new direction for the college.

In an interview Sunday, Scheuerman said that the college's expansion plans were the "crowning achievement" of his two years leading the college and that his departure was not related to the deal and would not affect it.

Scheuerman said that he was leaving because he has accomplished his main goals for the college and for personal reasons. "I'm 66 years old and I want to play with my grandkids."

The National Labor College, in Silver Spring, Md., awards degrees and offers training programs for a few hundred students -- generally up-and-coming union leaders wanting high-level training to advance their unions. Scheuerman has pushed to expand those programs, but the new deal represents a larger shift.

The college plans to add a range of programs for the rank and file of the labor movement and their families -- aiming to offer online degree programs for tens of thousands of students in a range of new fields. To do so, the college is working with the Princeton Review and the Penn Foster Education Group, which offers online degree programs similar to those envisioned by the labor college. While Scheuerman and other proponents of the expansion say that the for-profit partners will be used only for technical and marketing help, and not for academics, some in the academic labor movement have questioned the idea that the college of the labor movement would be doing business with a for-profit institution that doesn't offer tenure to faculty members.

The reason Scheuerman's departure is creating speculation is that it's quite sudden. He gave no indication in interviews after the Princeton Review deal that he was about to leave, and in fact talked about the work ahead on the project. In the interview Sunday, he noted that he was already out of the presidency and was speaking only as an individual and not for the college, although he said he would be working with the college in the months ahead on the transition.

But Scheuerman said that his departure is simply a sign that he's succeeded. "I came here to revitalize the college, to bring new ideas, to get on a sound financial basis, to change the culture, and that's all been done," he said. Fund raising is up, the conference center has become more active, and the online expansion will involve the college much more with organized labor, he said.

And even though the expansion has upset some professors because of the partners involved, many at the labor college and in organized labor have applauded the idea of building closer ties to union members who to date have had little connection to the college.

Scheuerman said that the timing is right for him to leave now. "I don't have the expertise to take this college to an online institution of 40,000 students," he said. Of the deal with Princeton Review and Penn Foster, he said: "It's the best thing that ever happened to the college.... We did it and now I can move on with my life."

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