The former dean of Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Business wrote in an October e-mail that he was terminated for insubordination after noting “serious concerns” about a university contract with an outside company to offer new online degree programs. The eight-sentence e-mail has sparked unrest and even a formal protest among business students eager to see their college accredited.
David M. Steele’s suggestion that the signed agreement with Bisk Education , a Tampa-based provider of continuing education and online learning programs, would undermine an ongoing accreditation process has angered students, who worry that the planned online programs will dilute the quality of their degree and jeopardize, or at least delay, the college’s chances at accreditation through AACSB International: The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that last Friday afternoon I was terminated for insubordination,” Steele wrote in an October 22 e-mail to business school faculty and staff that was obtained by Inside Higher Ed.
“My concerns relate to the agreement with Bisk Education, Inc. and its impact on AACSB  accreditation. It was made clear to me when I was hired that achieving AACSB accreditation was my number 1 priority."
Steele did not return a phone message Thursday afternoon, and a university spokesman, Jay Wilson, said that while he could confirm that Steele, hired in July 2005, is no longer employed by the university, he could not elaborate on details because of privacy concerns. Wilson, who said Florida Tech already collaborates with Bisk to offer a master’s program in information technology, explained that the university has signed a contract with the company to offer new online programs beginning in January 2008, among them master's and bachelor's degrees in administration and management.
But about 25 to 30 business students protested last Friday when the Board of Trustees came to campus, questioning the quality of the proposed programs, and wondering why they are being introduced when such high stakes are on the line, with the college inching closer toward accreditation. “We just feel that the degree that we’re paying for is not going to be the degree that we get,” said Amy Ho, a master’s of business administration student. “Due to Bisk, it’s going to further delay our process of being AACSB accredited. It’s something that we’d all been promised and were expecting, having chosen to attend this school.”
“It was my impression that accreditation was the top priority. The recent events say otherwise,” said Ricardo Ramirez, an M.B.A. student who said he plans to apply to M.B.A. programs at other universities. “I really hope that any future prospective students are aware that the board will make short-term decisions at the expense of education.”
Students also complained that the admissions standards for the online degree programs, designed for nontraditional students at least 22 years of age, would be lower than those for traditional students, cheapening the quality of their degrees, and criticized Bisk’s reputation for academic quality. “I really do feel like it jeopardizes the reputation of the school,” said Ho.
But Wilson, the university spokesman, said he thinks many students are basing their concerns on misinformation. Wilson said that admissions requirements for online applicants will be equivalent to those for on-campus applicants, and added that Bisk would not design the curriculum, but would simply provide marketing services and a platform for the online courses. “The courses would be developed by university faculty, they would be taught by university faculty, graded by university faculty,” Wilson said.
“Bisk is essentially a middleman.” Bisk officials did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Wilson also said that the money generated from the online degrees will be used to make the upgrades necessary to achieve accreditation for the College of Business, which, with 245 students, is the smallest of Florida Tech’s six colleges. The College of Business has never been AACSB-accredited, Wilson said. Its pre-proposal for accreditation was accepted in July -- the furthest the college has gone so far in pursuing the goal of getting the AACSB stamp.