Fired Globe dean: Whistleblower — or complainer in over her head?

Different pictures (MPR Photo / Tim Post)

A good bit of what has come out in the Globe University / Minnesota School of Business trial so far reflects what I’ve reported from the lawsuit and from a separate look at the school last year.

But opening arguments today did include some interesting new tidbits — especially from the defense.

Here’s a little recap of what each side said. The judge has not allowed recording equipment, so the notes are not verbatim.

Clayton Halunen, the attorney for plaintiff Heidi Weber, painted his client as a dedicated employee praised by supervisors — and then fired for raising concerns over unethical practices by the company.

A former medical assistant instructor, she rose to become network dean of the university’s medical assistant program. Months into her job, he said, Weber began seeing company attitudes and practices she considered wrong.

Admissions counselors were really just salespeople, Halunen said, and he called the university “a diploma mill.”

Globe’s “target demographic” for its student body were people who were academically weak and had few options — such as single moms and returning military personnel. Many, he said, had failed at other schools. One medical assistant student, he said, couldn’t figure out how to take a pulse — the most basic skill a medical assistant can perform.

“If you had a heartbeat or a breath, they’d say, ‘We’ll find a program for you,’” Halunen said.

Many Globe medical-assistant faculty had low-level degrees or certificates and had never taught before, he said.

He called Globe’s quoted job-placement rates of 98 to 99 percent “lies,” and said Globe employees also told students they could transfer their Globe credits to other institutions if they moved on — even though those credits likely wouldn’t be accepted elsewhere.

Halunen said Globe also misled students about salaries, the availability of externships, and who employed Globe graduates. The school did not tell students that its switch to an easier accrediting agency would hurt their job prospects.

“It’s a bait and switch,” Halunen said.

Nor did Globe tell students until their final term that having a felony conviction would prevent them from getting a job as a medical assistant, he said.

Weber took her concerns up the chain of command, Halunen said, but was ignored — or told to be quiet.

She had never received a bad report in her file, he said. But Globe executives began sending out emails to Globe staffers asking for examples of her mistakes at work. They made up reasons to fire her, he said, and Provost David Metzen eventually did.

Globe attorney Matthew Damon, however, sketched a different picture of Weber: one of a mediocre manager who ended up not being able to handle her job — and in desperation came up with the complaints against the company.

“The main question is: Why was she fired?” Damon said. “She was fired because she had lost the faith of the employees she was supposed to serve.”

Weber had a habit of arriving late and leaving early, Damon said. Among her faults, he said, she gave out erroneous information to Globe campuses, didn’t respond to requests for information from colleagues, and was not knowledgeable about the many elements related to the program.

Damon said Globe executives received many complaints from “from every level” about Weber.

“Her [supervisory] visits to campuses were a waste of time,” he said. Globe officials were asked by campus officials “not to send her again.”

Damon said Weber’s supervisor “may have been too nice” when she graded Weber’s job-performance reviews. That manager had never been to Globe campuses to hear the complaints against Weber. Still, he said, at least one review she gave Weber was just average, and “was one of the lowest reviews” she had given.

Executives’ email requests to company staffers requesting instances of mistakes by Weber “is not a new hunt,” he said. “It’s a follow-up” to back up earlier complaints officials had heard.

Damon said Metzen eventually concluded, “She’s in over her head. She simply is not up to the job.”

Damon said the university has not engaged in any unethical or illegal behavior. Weber ‘s allegations are flimsy, he said, and she can’t prove any student has ever actually been harmed or deceived.

“Out of all the thousands of students that went to Globe, they’re preparing to trot out one” as a witness, Damon said. “Out of all the hundreds of faculty, they’re going to trot out one.”

Damon said Weber was expected to raise concerns she had over how Globe was running her program. She was also expected to help fix the very problems she saw — something she failed to do.

“Ms. Weber’s reports (of problems) were nothing more than her struggling to do a job she was to be doing.”

Damon called Weber “passionate,” but said she is not a whistleblower.

“Globe is led by capable, dedicated people who put students first,” he said. “They do make mistakes — but they’re also held accountable.”

Damon added:

“There’s a big difference between mistakes and fraud.”

A copy of Heidi Weber’s complaint against Globe University can be found here.