At a meeting on May 13,the faculty of Middlebury College voted 95-16 in favor of a nonbinding motion calling on Middlebury to end its relationship with K12, Inc, Middlebury’s partner in the for-profit-online-education company Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL). Paula Schwartz, a professor of French, introduced the motion, which stated in part that “the business practices of K12 Inc. are at odds with the integrity, reputation, and educational mission of the College.”
Middlebury and K12 formed MIL in 2010 as a joint venture, with K12 taking a 60 percent equity holding. The company has grown significantly over the last four years. In 2013 it moved its headquarters from Provo, Utah, to Middlebury, and currently employs 75 people. Today, nearly 175,000 students in 1,200 school districts across the United States use its online language programs. Writing in The Campus on the eve of the faculty vote, President Ron Liebowitz said Middlebury entered into the venture for three reasons: to retain leadership in language teaching, including in online education; to expand access to language education for pre-college students; and to develop new revenue sources to support the institution.
The partnership with K12 has been somewhat controversial from the beginning. Some faculty raised objections to the fact that noted conservative William Bennett was one of the founders of K12. (He parted ways with the company years before MIL was created.) In recent years K12 has been the subject of several shareholder lawsuits, none of which has resulted in a finding against the company, though at least one was settled.
Following the vote, Liebowitz said it was important to understand the distinction between K12, which is a publicly held company based in Virginia, and MIL, which is an independent company, partly owned by Middlebury. He pointed out that even as a minority owner, Middlebury has considerable influence over MIL’s product and marketing strategies. He also said that he understood the faculty’s concerns and that he would continue to engage the Middlebury Board of Trustees on the issue.