A team of inspectors visited the Brooks Institute of Photography this week, 18 months after the school came under fire from state regulators for making inflated claims to prospective students about job prospects and salaries they could earn after graduation-conclusions that were ultimately thrown out by a judge.
This is the second visit by the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary and Vocational Education in 30 months. The bureau is charged with protecting students at private post-secondary schools in California. Its duties include establishing academic standards, issuing operating permits and making sure that private colleges and universities don't defraud their students.
The bureau issued a stinging report on Brooks in July 2005, accusing it of engaging "in a pervasive pattern of misrepresentations" to students and state regulators.
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Rather than issue a permanent permit to Brooks, the bureau issued a conditional permit, saying the school could be shut down within two years if it didn't fix the problems. Among other things, regulators were demanding that the school repay millions of dollars to its students as part of an "equitable restitution."
Attorneys for Brooks appealed the decision to an administrative law judge early last year. Frank E. Merideth, an attorney for Brooks, argued that regulators with the bureau failed to pull together "a visiting committee" of independent experts when inspectors visited the school in 2004 and 2005.
Judge Julie Cabos-Owen ultimately agreed, saying the bureau failed to follow its own regulations as well as the California Education Code when it issued Brooks a conditional permit to operate in July 2005.
Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which the bureau works under, said state regulators are committed to doing a correct inspection this time.
"We're essentially starting from scratch," Heimerich said. The committee will report on what it found at the school this week, though it's unclear exactly when.
"We believe that we will have a very positive visit," said Greg Strick, president of the Brooks Institute, which has campuses in Ventura and Santa Barbara.
Some students say the school has addressed many of the problems detailed in the now-invalidated 2005 report. But they also remain unhappy over what they say is a lack of communication between them and administrators at the school.
Students and faculty met with Strick last week and demanded he address their concerns. An audio recording of the meeting was posted on the school's Web site.
In that meeting, students told Strick that Brooks has failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing field of photojournalism in the courses it offers. They also demanded Strick fire administrators whom they said have stood in the way of these changes.
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Students and faculty told Strick that he will put Brooks' visual journalism program and even the entire school's future in jeopardy should he fail to quickly address these issues.
One faculty member told Strick that for the sake of students and faculty, changes must be profound and lasting or the school will not survive.