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Friday, April 29, 2005

Harvard-Westlake isn’t your typical high school

Reader Tip: Harvard Westlake litigation articles are here in the archive.

On the Board of Trustees is Charlie Munger, financial partner to Warren Buffet, the second wealthiest man in the world, after Bill Gates.

Also on the board are significant law firms which contributed significant funds through the current DHS Secretary Chertoff to the Bush Administration.

DOE also has interests in the matter. It remains to be understood how many of the board members are linked directly or indirectly through law firms which directly support the oil drilling business; or what role, if any, principals had in the Cheney Energy Commission.

Also, Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, is one of the major sponsors for journalism, the committee the current Westlake Chronicle advisor is associated with. Princeton also sponsors a number of outstanding High School journalism programs, and HW is well known at Princeton for outstanding academic achievement.

Westlake is connected to all sectors of society: Law, media, Wall Street, government, and high society. If you contrast Fox’s OC with Westlake, the only difference might be that the juniors on the OC aren’t yet applying to college.

The Lawsuit

The roots of the lawsuit in re abuse go back to the days when Westlake was a boy’s military academy in the early 1900s. Fairly recently, the school joined forces with a girls school. There were some significant forces of opposition to the combination.

Until recently, Westlake was known for good things. Apart from a major scuffle over a sporting event in the early 1990s, there really isn’t much to be said.

The school is known for high academic standards, a favorable teacher-student ratio relative to other institutions, and outstanding Academic Achievement across the board. Indeed, when you mention HW, you’re likely to hear things like, “The best High School in America” and “It’s a place that all journalists can be proud.”

Even on its website, the school had peer support groups designed to combat abuse.

But, what would make a fine institution slide?

Several factors. The Press got lazy. Just as they did prior to 9-11 and the invasion of Iraq.

And the board of directors trusted the headmaster, even when things weren’t going so well below the surface.

Hudnut has a reputation for a management style that is delegative. When there is as issue to be reviewed, he’d rather those closest to the situation, namely the teachers, take the lead. Under Hudnut, a committee orchestrated a reduction in homework hours.

So it comes as a surprise to find that so much apparently went unnoticed or not addressed.

Litigation issues

Defense counsel will likely bring forward various former graduates to testify that the personnel were fine. Hudnut has over the years been known to extemporaneously given eloquent speeches celebrating the achievements of former students-turned-administrators.

One vulnerable area remains the school publication policy. Emerging from the pre-litigation discussion is the false notion that the school newspaper is somehow free to publish what it likes.

One small problem. The Chronicle is not a public newspaper. Rather, it is a newspaper from a private institution.

The courts have already found that in cases where the institution is private, that the Administration officials are presumed to be in a position to exercise editorial control.

This, combined with the Title IX requirements is at the heart of the complaint.

Thus, Harvard-Westlake appears to be already appealing to the alumni to ensure that the donations do not drop off.

What is surprising is the lack of press coverage of the issue. It remains to be understood how many members of the press are taking a hands off approach to the issue, just as they did with the pre-Iraq invasion.

Even the students’ blogs make no mention of the issue. It’s as if the school and parents have collectively agreed to circle the wagons and say nothing.


Multi-Jurisdiction Contract Management of School Website

A Rhode Island firm is linked with the school website. The school website as up and running by January 1999. It remains to be understood whether the IT department effectively managed this contract; and if so, why management was not similarly effective in monitoring student access to the computer facilities.

  • A. How was a firm in Rhode Island picked as the California schools website?

  • B. What methods were used to ensure that a distant contractor was appropriately managed; what checklists, coordination, and discussions occurred; how were the ongoing contract results monitored, documented, and reported to the board?

  • C. How does the institutions’ approach to the allegations of abuse compare or contrast with its ability to effectively manage a distant contract in Rhode Island?

    Complex Scientific Technology Contract Management

    There is an external cable than runs from outside the building into the computer area. A contract was let to permit access. This was coordinated with the IT department.

    It remains to be understood whether the IT department carefully reviewed the proposed cable routing plan, and to what extent they were similarly actively involved in appropriately monitoring of computer equipment allegedly used by students to post the threats of death.

  • A. Either checklists are or are not being effectively used. When issuing the contract and overseeing the CHICO monitoring project, what types of checklists were used to ensure the contract was appropriate? It remains to be understood to what extent the apparent problems with not effective overseeing the abuse-prevention programs are indicators of problems in the wider IT management issues.

  • B. Either consultations occurred in the IT project, and were not effective in re the alleged abuse; or both areas have problems with multi-department communications. What consultations did the IT staff have with other members of the faculty, Hudnut, or the board of trustees? It remains unclear whether the apparent problems with communication in the abuse-prevention area are signs of wider problems with communications on other more complicated issues.

  • C. Either the checklists were used in the IT project, but were not in the alleged abuse situation; or they were not effectively used in either situation. How do the checklists, oversight, and management interest in the CHICO project at HW compare with managements responses to the allegations of abuse? It remains unclear whether the apparent problems with abuse-intervention are indicators of wider problems with possible cursory management oversight of technology programs.

    Appropriateness of management responses to foreseeable problems

    Natural disasters are foreseeable. They are not planned, but insurance policies are written to mitigate the risks. Also, there are management plans in place to respond to interruptions and quickly mobilize staff to address the issues.

    In Jan 2005 there was a flood, forcing a substantial number to stay home. It remains to be understood whether the administration’s response to the flood was appropriate, or whether there were critical management issues which would shed light on the apparent lack of response to the alleged abuse.

  • A. Were the administrations’ plans and responses to the flood appropriate?

  • B. Were personnel appropriately trained on procedures what to do with a school shutdown?

  • C. How does the staff planning and response to the flood compare to the alleged reports of abuse?

    Effectiveness of management oversight of facility upgrades

    There’s also been some discussion about a facility expansion which included a parking lot renovation. Small problem. If the student-teacher ratio is correct, there still appear to be an insufficient number of parking lot spots for the teachers. It remains to be understood whether the same Board of Trustees that approved the upgrade plan may have missed an important point, just as they may have missed issues in re alleged abuse.

  • A. Board members are expected to take an active interest in issues. What role did the board of trustees, faculty, or administration staff have in the facility upgrade plan?

  • B. Board members are expected to take an active interest in ensuring the institution is in compliance with the law and meeting institution objectives. Can the board explain why the facility upgrade plan was approved despite the apparent disconnect between the total number of faculty members, and the actual number of parking spots available after the project is to be completed?

  • C. Under Title IX and per the HW parent’s association handbook, faculty members have duty to report allegations of abuse to the Deans. How does the Board of Trustees “intimate involvement in the upgrade plan” contrast with the apparent hands off approach to the allegations of abuse? It remains unclear why the board would have different levels of interest on equally important issues, or is does the board not have enough interest in issues?

    Effectiveness in translating programs in to tangible results

    HW also has a number of associations with abuse prevention organizations. It remains unclear to what extent school officials were knowledgeable of these external association work products, and to what degree, if any they were negligent in translating the case law and lessons learned into appropriate oversight, policies, and responses to the alleged abuse.

    If we are to believe the public accolades for Hudnut, then we are to presume that he delegated the responsibility for oversight of these abuse-prevention programs to either one of the 10 deans, or a faculty member.

  • A. To prevail in a cause of action where qualified immunity fails, the school officials are expected to demonstrate competence in the performance of their duties. Did Hudnut stay in touch with the program?

  • B. Meeting minutes are normally required when board members meet. Are there meeting minutes of the faculty member discussions with students on the effectiveness of these programs?

  • C. It is unusual to have one management style for one set of issues, but a different management style for something else. Did Hudnut ensure that there was appropriate supervision of these well known programs to ensure that the programs were effective in practice, not just name?

  • D. With time, a management style emerges. How does the administrations approach to the abuse prevention programs compare with their approaches to the flood and facility upgrade programs?

    Funding issues

    Let’s take the plaintiff’s allegations as true, and presume that they are a symptom of a breakdown in management oversight, checklist compliance, and board involvement.

    Harvard Westlake issues guidance to parents on stock portfolios. It is not unusual to see Harvard Westlake on the list of first on US Securities and Exchange Documents.

  • What measures, if any, has the board taken in the wake of these allegations to look into wider management issues?

  • Is it reasonable to expect the board, in light of these allegations related to apparent non-compliance with checklists and program objectives, to look at others issues related to funds management?

  • Statement on Accounting Standards 99 [SAS99] is a checklist which outlines a number of risk indicators related to fraud. Some issues related to management turnover, public allegations of corruption, or indicators that internal controls are not effectively followed. What steps, if any, has the board taken to dovetail the guidance in SAS99 with the unfolding indicators in re HW?

  • AIG, which falls under Mr. Buffet, is currently under investigation by Mr. Elliot Spitzer, US Attorney General, over allegations that AIG corruptly persuaded firms to pay kickbacks. It is reported that Mr. Buffet has claimed over the years that he hires the best people and lets them run the show. In light of the allegations against HW of ineffective management responses to allegations of deviations from institutional standards in re hate crimes and abuse, what changes, if any, has the board made in their evaluation of their association with Mr. Munger?

    What remains unclear

    It remains to be understood, inter alia:

  • What pressure, if any, law firms on the board put pressure on the homeowner association and/or city environmental officials to either back off or approve a facility expansion project;

  • How much money, if any, was funneled from various law firms to city officials to put pressure on the DA not to prosecute;

  • Whether any individuals, firms, or foundations provided funding to the Bush Re-election campaign in the hopes that DoJ not thoroughly investigate various future allegations; and

  • Whether there were, are, or will be orders issued from Dow Jones to not cover the issues at Harvard Westlake to ensure continued flow of alumni funding.

    Harvard-Westlake has a lawsuit. It remains unclear how far this will go. Is it just a matter of law, or are there more pressed suits involved than meet the eye?

    Of interest

  • Case law compared to Middle School Hanbook.

  • Internet hate crimes at the HW Complaint.