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Small Utah college with big political ties is going under

First Published      Last Updated Oct 23 2015 12:06 pm

Wythe University » Conservative school burdened by money woes is working with state on structured shutdown.
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Beginnings • George Wythe University is named after the nation's first law professor, a mentor to Thomas Jefferson. DeMille, Brooks, and a few others created the school in 1992, with the idea of teaching from the classics the Founding Fathers studied and the writings they created.

It distinguished itself from other "Great Books" colleges by infusing its curriculum with the teachings of the late Cleon Skousen, a former FBI agent, Salt Lake City police chief and author, who intertwined his Mormon faith with libertarian views. He became a significant figure in far-right politics, including a posthumous resurgence promoted by Beck's TV and radio programs.

Every George Wythe student was required to read Skousen's "The 5,000 Year Leap," and the conservative thinker regularly visited the classes taught in those early years at a Duck Creek ski lodge at the top of Cedar Mountain in Iron County. While Skousen's interest in the university would soon wane, it would be years before administrators phased out his works from the curriculum, saying they were not academic works.

The university was operating as an offshoot of the Coral Ridge Baptist University in Florida, so students received degrees in biblical studies, even though the education wasn't particularly religious in nature. Students who attended classes had to plow through lengthy reading lists before joining deep discussions led by professors called "mentors."

Many George Wythe students rave about the education they received, first at Duck Creek and then in a space under a dentist office on Cedar City's Main Street.

Neil Schiffman, who is now a financial planner in Riverton, graduated with a degree in statesmanship in 2010.

"The education and the professors were fantastic," he said. "The debates really stretch your belief system."

However, Connor Boyack, who founded the libertarian think tank, LIbertas Institute, and has taken a few distance courses from George Wythe, called it "in essence, a glorified book club."

The university broke away from Coral Ridge in 2001, creating its own charitable foundation to run the school and new protocols that limited the amount of life-experience credit offered. DeMille and Brooks still led the university, though they now answered to a board, made up largely of past graduates.

Brooks wanted to move the school, or at least set up a second campus, in Monticello, on donated land. He then sunk much of the school's roughly $250,000 endowment into the project, telling the board that the move was necessary for the school to eventually get accredited and allow students to get federal loans and financial aid.

The rosy financial picture painted by the founders changed suddenly in early 2009, Earley recalls, when Brooks warned that the school may have to close.

The board removed Brooks from his job as president and eliminated the role of chancellor, shifting both founders to spots on the board. DeMille, suffering from health problems, played a minimal role, while Brooks was asked to lead the school's annual fundraising gala.

Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney • That event took place at the state Capitol in May 2009, and Brooks was able to get Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, to introduce Glenn Beck, who entertained the crowd dressed in tuxedos and gowns.

"We are all united in moving forward the cause of liberty," Romney said, "and building men and women of virtue and wisdom, diplomacy and courage, which is part of the mission statement of the university itself."

The event was a nice party, but it didn't make a profit.

A week after the gala, the school's last such event, Brooks resigned. The university cut all ties with DeMille shortly thereafter.

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