University of Phoenix Responds to FRONTLINE
Timeline of interaction between FRONTLINE and University of Phoenix
Martin Smith contacts University of Phoenix and provides a treatment of the proposed FRONTLINE report on higher education, describing the documentary as taking a look at “how well America serves ‘non-traditional’ students.” Specifically, the treatment states, “While community colleges are long established and offer a broad range of classes at low cost, they are also earning a reputation for being stagnant institutions, unable to respond to or meet the basic needs of their students. Despite a philosophy of open access to all, classes are often unavailable, schedules can be inflexible and buildings and facilities worn and in disrepair. For-profit universities, though reaching a far smaller population, are the most dynamic sector of higher education. But they too have been beset – fairly or unfairly – by their own controversies.” Mr. Smith has an estimated shooting schedule for interviews in January and February of 2010, with March and April dedicated to editing of the documentary.
University of Phoenix proposes to FRONTLINE a half-day of several on-camera interviews with University leadership, as well as shooting of footage at University of Phoenix facilities in Phoenix, Arizona in late January or early February. FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith responds that he is “disappointed that a December visit can’t happen,” and fails to propose alternative dates for a shoot.
FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith informs University of Phoenix that he will be in Phoenix on December 15. The University responds that unfortunately, a representative will not be able to meet with Mr. Smith on that date. The University once again requests confirmation for an on-camera session in late January or early February.
The FRONTLINE production team deliberately circumvents the University and secures approximately six hours of unauthorized footage and audio of University employees involved in a joint University of Phoenix/CareerBuilder career fair in Chicago, Illinois. The production team gains access to the event and to University employees by approaching CareerBuilder rather than the University for entry.
Martin Smith provides possible dates for a January shoot to the University, making no mention of the Chicago career fair. University of Phoenix confronts Mr. Smith on his production team’s actions.
Mr. Smith responds that the production team felt they were not given immediate access, and “moved forward.”
After deliberate and careful consideration, the University informs FRONTLINE that it will decline on-camera involvement in the documentary. The University offers to provide a written statement and requests the opportunity to respond in writing to any outstanding questions or allegations involving the University. FRONTLINE responds calling the University’s decision a “rude surprise.”
FRONTLINE once again circumvents the University and contacts a local Learning Center in Yuma, Arizona requesting an interview about “how University of Phoenix delivers education and about unemployment in Yuma.” The University confronts FRONTLINE, noting that in “respectfully declining on-camera involvement in your forthcoming documentary for FRONTLINE, we are declining on behalf of all of our campuses and learning centers around the country.”
The University sends a letter to Martin Smith to follow-up on the original request to allow the University the opportunity to respond in writing to outstanding questions or allegations in the documentary. According to FRONTLINE’s published guidelines on journalistic styles and practices, specific to “fairness,” the program’s producers are obligated to “give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks.” The University requests the opportunity to respond in writing with ample time to any and all allegations in advance of the documentary’s May airdate. The University also requests disclosure of the funding source for the documentary.
Martin Smith responds to the University’s March 31, 2010 letter, reiterating the production team’s desire for an on-camera interview with a University official. Mr. Smith does not answer the question about the documentary’s funding source and says he is referring the issue to WGBH, which runs the FRONTLINE series.
Apollo Education Group’s General Counsel sends a letter to FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith and executive producer David Fanning again requesting the opportunity to respond in writing to any outstanding questions or allegations involving the University and with ample time to respond in advance of the documentary’s May air date.
FRONTLINE responds to the University, acknowledging the University’s right to provide a written statement. FRONTLINE also provides the University with a list of 14 questions, but again fails to give the University the opportunity to respond to any allegations.
The University responds to FRONTLINE, with answers to all 14 questions. The University restates its reason why it declined to participate in on-camera interviews for the FRONTLINE documentary.