Just because you’ve lived, worked or grown up in Northern Virginia doesn’t mean you’ve ever heard of the University of Northern Virginia. For many of us, our first notice was a recent immigration raid on the university’s Annandale offices on Little River Turnpike, just around the corner from the great 24-hour Korean barbecue joint Yechon on Hummer Road.
So many questions. What is their team name? The Fighting Commuters? The Mall Rats? Do they have a rivalry with George Mason? Was their chancellor a “suburban sex-dungeon master”?
And is the University of NoVa just a way for foreign nationals to buy a visa into the United States? An investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education suggested that in March, possibly prompting the visit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
I went to the campus Monday to check out the university, stroll the grounds, and ask what the place was all about. The campus is a four-story office building just inside the Beltway, with a paved parking lot in the rear and office space available. Classes are taught on the ground floor, and administrative headquarters are in the office building next door.
I made a pitch and left my card with a receptionist, called later and also e-mailed, but did not hear from the administration. In particular, I hoped to hear from Daniel Ho, the owner of the unaccredited university, who told the Chronicle of Higher Education he didn’t mind being anonymous in NoVa. “We don’t want people to know us,” he said, instead relying on Internet applications mostly from Indian students looking to both work and earn an American degree. I did not hear back from UNVA Monday, but hope to hear from them today.
The University of Northern Virginia apparently launched in 1998, according to the school’s website, and now has classrooms on Braddock Road in Springfield, on Balls Ford Road in Manassas and in Prague, Czech Republic, which is a slightly longer commute. There are real classes, real instructors and real students, at least in Annandale. The students I spoke to were Korean, taking a marketing course, but they said the class had standard work requirements, and there was a rule that you couldn’t miss more than three classes.
There is a full 118-page catalog online, with courses in numerous disciplines including computer science, sociology and casino management (I’m looking seriously at “CASI 570 Current Trends in Resorts and Casinos”).
The school offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, though it’s not clear how that works since it is unaccredited. Its ample website states on every page that UNVA is “certified to operate as a University by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia.” That is true, but that only means that it meets minimum financial and operational standards, council spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson said, and is a step toward accreditation of its academic process.
The school was approved by the federal government to admit full-time foreign students on I-20 visas. But that approval was suspended by ICE after its July 28 raid, and UNVA has a month to challenge that ruling.
Last Thursday, the school’s provost, K. Habib Khan, posted a letter to students saying the school was preparing its rebuttal. (And that students ”should make all payments on time.”).
Then on Friday, Khan got a promotion. That’s because Chancellor David V. Lee felt like there was just too much chatter about his profile on the world’s largest bondage and sado-masochism website, collarme.com. First located by The Smoking Gun, then picked up by Britain’s Daily Mail, the profile allegedly described the chancellor’s search for a permanent live-in partner with his girlfriend, and had some photos of Lee doing something to someone with fire.
So Lee resigned on Friday, adding to the turmoil, and Khan became acting chancellor..
This is all big news in India, from which the vast majority of UNVA’s 2,000-plus student body allegedly originates. Something called Tri-Valley University in California has already been investigated and charged, and even students there were targeted for federal scrutiny. The Indian media again hauled out the headlines of “Sham University” for UNVA, though there appears to be much more actual classroom work here than at Tri-Valley.
But the question of whether UNVA is legitimately educating students and issuing degrees, or just being used as a way to get a visa, remains in the air. While we wait to hear back from University officials, here’s one of many TV news reports on the case from the Indian media, from IndiaEcho.com: