Topeka Washburn University President Jerry Farley said he has never heard of the term “phantom students” but it is a phrase in the lawsuit that has been filed against him, Washburn University and the school’s board of regents.
“I’ve never heard that term before,” he said. “I have no idea what it is.”
Wanda Hill, former treasurer and vice president for administration, and Robin Bowen, former vice president for academic affairs, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Topeka alleging they were fired by Farley this past spring for engaging in protected whistleblower activities. In the lawsuit, Farley is accused of inflating Washburn’s enrollment numbers in 2008.
The lawsuit alleges during a January 2009 meeting, Robin Bowen recommended dropping students who didn’t show up for classes, prior to the distribution of federal financial aid to those students. The lawsuit alleges Farley “repeatedly refused to accept the recommendations on accelerating dropping students.” The lawsuit further states “this was done so that the students could be shown as enrolled to artificially inflate enrollment numbers and prevent Washburn University from discovering students who wrongfully received federal financial aid credited to their University accounts.”
Farley said the process used to determine whether a student is actually on campus and attending classes isn’t as simple as one might think, given that not all students are consistent about going to class on a regular basis and not all students notify the university when they leave the school.
“If a student doesn’t contact us, we won’t know if he or she is here,” he said.
Farley said, however, as a semester goes on, it becomes easier to know whether a student is on campus, particularly if a student is consistently identified by multiple professors as not attending classes. That student, however, may have already received federal financial aid that then must be recovered by the university.
“They have an obligation to return that money,” he said. “We have an obligation to collect that money.”