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Massachusetts Won't Pursue Case Against Mount Ida

March 14, 2019

Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey said Wednesday investigators have found that Mount Ida College officials had “ample notice” of the college’s precarious financial condition -- and that they failed to develop backup plans for students even as they reasonably knew the college might close.

But Healey’s office said it won’t take legal action against the college or its Board of Trustees. Pursuing litigation “would not be in the public interest,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Green and Arwen Thoman, who directs the office's Student Loan Assistance Unit.

In a detailed, 21-page letter to Carlos Santiago, the state’s higher education commissioner, they said an investigation found that Mount Ida’s board and senior leadership, including President Barry Brown, failed to alert the campus of the college’s financial troubles.

But, they concluded, “With Mount Ida now closed and with negligible assets remaining, drawn-out litigation likely would be of limited utility. In addition, with the immediate and problematic financial state of many higher education institutions in the commonwealth, the more important public interest is in the disclosure of these findings -- and related recommendations -- about the harmful and calamitous closure of Mount Ida, with the hope and expectation that the regulators and other higher education institutions will implement safeguards to prevent any similar occurrence.”

Mount Ida last April said it would shut down, with its campus becoming part of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The college had been struggling financially and had been pursuing merger talks with Lasell College.

Healey’s office said its investigation raised “serious questions” about Mount Ida officials’ conduct and communications. “At a minimum, their decision making fell short of what is expected of a charitable board in meeting its obligations to an educational mission,” Green and Thoman wrote.

Investigators also said the college may have violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act by failing to develop a closing plan and transfer opportunities for students -- that would violate state regulations designed to prevent students from being “educationally stranded.”

In a statement, Brown said Wednesday’s decision “speaks volumes,” adding that Mount Ida’s board and officers “complied with the law at all times and did all they could to save the college and help its students.” But in separate statements both he and the board said the letter contains several inaccuracies about the closure.

“The college’s leadership undertook extraordinary efforts to support its students and employees during exceptionally difficult circumstances,” the board said in its statement.


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