Students at Columbia University have started a petition drive calling on the institution's president, Lee C. Bollinger, to demand changes at Kaplan colleges and universities or resign his seat on the board of the corporation that owns the colleges, the Washington Post Company.
"We want him to use his clout as president of Columbia to support reforms at Kaplan," said Michael Rady, a sophomore and lead activist with the College Democrats, one of the largest student organizations on the Columbia campus.
The students, who began their petition drive last week and have been distributing cheeky leaflets around the campus and online to publicize the campaign ("PrezBo's got one tie you won't like," says one, showing Mr. Bollinger in a shirt and tie), said they were concerned by news accounts and other reports describing what appear to be abusive recruiting tactics at Kaplan. The students cite documents Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, introduced into the Congressional Record last week, which include training manuals from Kaplan urging recruiters to "keep digging" to uncover prospective students' pain and fears.
"They say they they can get someone a job," said Mr. Rady, but "they get them into tons of debt." A Kaplan spokesman said the company had ceased using the training material a year ago. As of Tuesday, just over 300 people had signed the petition.
Mr. Rady said the students are hoping to meet with Mr. Bollinger, who makes $70,000 a year as a Post Company director, where he is responsible for shaping broad policies for Kaplan and The Washington Post newspaper, but not for day-to-day management. They want him to stand up for new regulations that could cut off federal student aid for programs in which students graduate with high debt loads relative to the income they'll make or have low rates of repayment on their loans, and to halt the lobbying Kaplan has been undertaking to undermine adoption of the new regulations. "If he does speak out, it would show what we're all about here," said Mr. Rady.
Mr. Bollinger declined to comment but a spokesman provided a written statement: "While President Bollinger joined the Washington Post Company board primarily because of his scholarship on freedom of the press and long-held interest in quality journalism, he concurs with the importance of compliance with legal and ethical standards in the education field and knows that Post Company and Kaplan management share his view."