News

Sofia names new president amid student protest

At least 11 faculty, staff members reportedly fired Thursday

Students and faculty at Palo Alto's Sofia University are seeking a complete replacement of the school's board of trustees following across-the-board budget cuts this fall and a faculty no-confidence vote in President Neal King.

Seven out of 10 trustees have resigned in recent weeks and remaining trustees announced that King would resign effective Dec. 31, but demonstrators in front of the school Thursday afternoon demanded King's immediate departure.

Meanwhile, Sofia's remaining trustees Thursday afternoon named an interim president for the school, former Pitzer College president Frank Ellsworth, effective Jan. 1.

In a letter to the Sofia community, the trustees authorized King in the meantime to "take all necessary steps to restructure the organization in order to realize operational and personnel savings that will bring the budget into balance..."

"This is a very painful experience for those of us who care deeply about this school," said Aneel Chima, a doctoral student and former student representative on the board of trustees of Sofia, previously known as the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.

Chima said students and faculty want new trustees drawn from past board members, alumni and people with historic ties to the school.

As students and faculty gathered in front of the school for Thursday's protest, Chima said he has received word that King that morning had fired at least 11 faculty and staff members, including the school's co-founder, professor Robert Frager, and well-known local psychologist and writer Fred Luskin, author of "Forgive for Good."

The 38-year-old nonprofit university, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, offers on-campus as well as online degrees in psychology, with a bent toward the discipline's spiritual, emotional and creative aspects. It reports a full-time-equivalent enrollment of 526 students.

Frager, a psychologist, said on Wednesday he has filed a complaint with the California Attorney General's Office seeking an investigation.

"There's been an atmosphere of secrecy from the top down, so the board refused to give us a budget for this year and the president refused to give us a budget or clear figures about what's going on," Frager said.

King "has been at the school two and a half years and one major complaint is that he does not provide adequate information to people," he said.

Frager said he believes Sofia's enrollment numbers suffered because the admissions office was disorganized and "failed to respond to inquiries in a timely way."

In a written statement Wednesday, King said that despite "a revenue shortfall this year, Sofia University is not on the brink of insolvency.

"The board and I are fully engaged in a due diligence process to address enrollment and revenue, and to balance the budget for the current fiscal year," the statement said.

Frager said discontent began to emerge at the end of the summer when King announced he was imposing across-the-board salary cuts of 10 percent because of a $1.2 million shortfall.

"Our budget is about $10 million so we're talking about over 10 percent," Frager said.

The last straw came in November when King announced a second budget shortfall, Frager said. The amount was "not totally clear," but estimated at about another $1 million, he said.

"The way he was planning to make up the funds was an additional pay cut, cutting medical and retirement contributions and firing faculty and staff, among other things," he said.

At that point, Sofia's 50 full- and part-time faculty members delivered a no-confidence vote in King's leadership, Frager said. As faculty leaders explained their vote in a series of meetings with trustees, all but three of the trustees resigned.

Turmoil at the school, which allegedly has included the preemptive cancellation of some faculty email accounts, including Frager's, the hiring of security guards and a lock-out at the campus Tuesday afternoon has caused problems for students, many said.

"A very important aspect of what is going on is the damage being done to students," said a graduate student who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

"The hiring and firing practices of Neal King had been mostly secretive," the student said.

"I would only notice because new people were coming into senior positions so often. Over time, certain critical areas of the school like financial aid and accounting had so much turnover that mistakes were constantly being made on students' financial aid accounts, disbursement checks started coming late and tuition adjustments and increases became the norm.

"Students, above all, have suffered from these actions," the graduate student said.

Despite the troubles, many expressed allegiance to the school's mission of teaching psychology from a spiritual angle and said they hope past leaders will return to rebuild the institution.

"In spite of all the pain I and others have suffered I remain a loyal advocate for all of the wonderful things this school is and can bring," said a former senior manager, who said he was hired by King and later fired, as were the 11 staff members he hired in his year at the school.

King, a psychologist and former president of Antioch University in Los Angeles, was hired to lead what was then known as the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, which is housed in former office buildings on East Meadow Circle.

The year after his arrival the school rebranded itself as Sofia University. The restructuring in which the school said it would begin offering undergraduate studies was based on research into social and economic trends in higher education, according to a statement from the university at the time of the name change.

Comments

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Posted by A graduate student
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I have had excellent faculty at ITP/Sofia; it's a school with an excellent reputation in preparing individuals for the counseling profession. The staff are kind and warm. I have not personally known the president, but I have felt something has been amiss since I began my degree program a year and a half ago and suspected it was the leadership. I am very concerned with the swift movement of what is taking place and fear for the continuance of my degree based on the firings.


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Posted by appalled
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Thank you for this excellent story about Sofia University. It is true that only 2 Board members (there is a 3rd who has been relatively invisible), along with Neal King, are driving Draconian cuts to salary, to staff, to faculty, to higher admin at the school. It is a question how legal this is. Aside from the 7 Board members who quit recently, there was a whole Board who quit or were driven out soon after meeting Neal. The new Board, hand-picked by Neal, made new bylaws allowing it to act without a quorum; 9 is the reasonable number. The question is, when they made the bylaws, was a quorum at that time in attendance? Were their bylaw changes legal? The decisions have been bad since Neal took over, driving the school downhill at a great pace. One asks what can be done now: Either actions must succeed such that Founder and all, plus willing donors (lined up and ready), can reclaim--or it must be sold to become another diploma mill, seemingly Neal's aim. Interim President picked by Board has been descried on Internet as same kind of toxic influence as Neal King. Please sign petition Web Link


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Posted by Unfortunate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I am an alumni from ITP (institute of Transpersonal Psychology). My memories of ITP are of a warm and safe environment. The thought of a security guard walking the halls is very hard to imagine. How do we help?


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 19, 2013 at 11:09 pm

If you want to help, go to Web Link There you can find up to date information on returning balance back to 1069 Meadow Dr.


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Posted by Mercy
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 20, 2013 at 12:18 am

Mercy is a registered user.

As a community member I have attended a number of events at The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology over the years, and have always felt that Palo Alto is fortunate to have this gem in our neighborhood. I have, however been perplexed and appalled as the Neal King debacle has unfolded over the last two years or so.

I have watched, with horror, as this stranger to the internal workings of this beloved institution has been allowed to carry on as a tin-plated dictator.

How many staff, faculty, board members and trustees have left during his presidency?
Why? This was a respected, vital, well-run institution before Neil King's arrival.

A quote from Chris Kenrick's article states that "In a letter to the Sofia community, the trustees authorized King in the meantime to "take all necessary steps to restructure the organization in order to realize operational and personnel savings that will bring the budget into balance..."

Really? The three trustees, whom Neal King appointed, having dismissed all the others? Sounds like a recipe for larceny, to me.

I advise Attorney General Kamala Harris to check these facts:

Since President King has taken position in 2011,
7 of the 10 board members of Sofia University have recently "resigned"
100% of faculty (50) and 83% of staff (32) voted "no confidence" in the president's performance
There is no cultural or gender diversity on the current board as it stands.
The current board and president refuse to share details of the schools financial condition with the vice presidents, faculty or staff.
When Dr. King took over Sofia U the school was in robust financial health. Now the school faces at least a one million shortfall in revenue
When Dr. King took over Sofia the school had roughly 4 million dollars in reserve. At this time faculty and other administrators cannot obtain an accounting of the reserve balance.
The board resists a follow up meeting with faculty and staff representatives
In the last week, President King has:
Blocked the email accounts of two vice presidents, the school founder and the head of the faculty senate
Removed without consent desktop computers from staff and faculty offices
Sent threatening emails to staff
Removed invitation to a community meeting from student, staff, faculty and alumni email accounts
Falsely claimed the community meeting, scheduled for Dec. 17, 2013, had been postponed until January 2014
Hired security guards to patrol the campus
Unilaterally closed down the school this past Tuesday afternoon. Students who needed the school's resources (e.g. the library) were turned away by the security guards.
Fired faculty and staff who voiced their concerns for the greater community.

The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (SOFIA) is a member of our community. Let's rally to her defense.


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Posted by Debbie R
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 4:59 am

As a parent of a student enrolled in the PsyD program, and a professional employee of another university, I am shocked at the blatent disregard for students in this 'mess'! They have received no direct communication from the presidents office, and have had to resort to picking up whatever bits they can from faculty, staff and other students - true or false. They are hugely concerned about their future, whether or not they will be able to complete their credential at the school, their accreditation, and the stigma that will follow them as they work their way into professional employment. Shame on you!


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Posted by Louise T
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 7:44 am

I am a global student of Sofia based in the UK. When I decided to study with an overseas university I did so based on the reputation of what was then the ITP. It had a world class reputation and for me was the place I wanted to study Transpersonal Psychology. It has been apparent that things have gone very awry recently. The communication of tuition fees and changes has been terrible. The administration does not work. I feel so sad for the excellent staff (experts in their fields) who are being treated in this way. Who is in charge of policing this board and the actions that they are taking? As a student I am becomingly increasingly worried that there will be no university left to award me the qualification I am working so hard for and have paid so much money for? There has been no communication from the university board. Its a disgrace.


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Posted by Valentine McKay-Riddell
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 9:03 am

In response to the events of the past few days I want to encourage community members, students, alumni, and faculty members (current and former, despite the recent "terminations" and lockout)to stand up and share their honest views of the situation at ITP (now called Sofia). I am an alumna (PhD 2006, MACP 2003), former Co-President of the ITP Alumni Association, and former Global PhD Adjunct Faculty member. I have been appalled at ITP's downward spiral from the onset of Neal King's role as President, and have said so many times to those who would listen. Those of us who cherish ITP as it used to be and honor the principles of Transpersonal Psychology (or spiritual psychology as it's called in this article) can no longer tolerate the agenda of secrecy, deception, and arbitrary termination of valued and hard-working faculty members, staff,and board members who have served ITP for years-- not to mention the threats aimed at those students who tried to address these issues many months ago-- that has prevailed for the past two and a half years. It is too late to save our own necks, if fear of retribution is what has held people back. We must act together and act quickly if we are to save ITP. This situation is analagous to the rash of bunker-building that occurred in the 1950s in response to the threat of nuclear disaster. Once the bomb has fallen, who can live in the world that's left? Once ITP is totally destroyed, what future has Transpersonal Psychology? Sometimes we are pushed to do what is right by circumstances that appear to be beyond our control. But in fact, we are at a crossroads-- a kairos moment-- when the pendulum of fate could swing either way. The direction it takes for the future is up to us. It is time to stand up and be counted-- to SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

This is devastating, particularly for students. Loss of key faculty to lead programs: with Bob Frager (Founder and transpersonal psychology torch bearer) gone, will the MA in Spiritual Guidance program continue, or the internationally-renowned Dojo he built up within the school?; with only 2 full time faculty left in the Global PhD program, will that program survive? Let's not forget the Research Ethics Committee which has now been decimated: Fred Luskin was Chair of the ethics program, and Kartik Patel was the secondary Chair who stepped in when Fred was not available - BOTH gone. It will take time to reconstitute the Ethics board (assuming any of the faculty have the bandwidth left over with the dramatic increase in advising and Chairing of dissertations), and that will be costly for students. The Clinical program no longer has their placement coordinator, who directed students to placements in order to work on hours as Mari was also terminated.

As it was, staff and faculty worked hard wearing many hats, as is common in small non-profits, in order to bring service to students. These latest cuts seem over the top and quite detrimental.

The hope for this school remains in turning this ship around. (And to think they had a number of old Board members and donors willing to contribute large sums, if only Neal and the 3 Board members would leave!) Create a new Board of Trustees with prior community leaders and board members, bring in new leadership who truly maintain the transpersonal vision for this school and community. Working together, this community could be strong again, and I hold out hope that this will happen for the ITP/Sofia community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

This is devastating, particularly for students. Loss of key faculty to lead programs: with Bob Frager (Founder and transpersonal psychology torch bearer) gone, will the MA in Spiritual Guidance program continue, or the internationally-renowned Dojo he built up within the school?; with only 2 full time faculty left in the Global PhD program, will that program survive? Let's not forget the Research Ethics Committee which has now been decimated: Fred Luskin was Chair of the ethics program, and Kartik Patel was the secondary Chair who stepped in when Fred was not available - BOTH gone. It will take time to reconstitute the Ethics board (assuming any of the faculty have the bandwidth left over with the dramatic increase in advising and Chairing of dissertations), and that will be costly for students. The Clinical program no longer has their placement coordinator, who directed students to placements in order to work on hours as Mari was also terminated.

As it was, staff and faculty worked hard wearing many hats, as is common in small non-profits, in order to bring service to students. These latest cuts seem over the top and quite detrimental.

The hope for this school remains in turning this ship around. (And to think they had a number of old Board members and donors willing to contribute large sums, if only Neal and the 3 Board members would leave!) Create a new Board of Trustees with prior community leaders and board members, bring in new leadership who truly maintain the transpersonal vision for this school and community. Working together, this community could be strong again, and I hold out hope that this will happen for the ITP/Sofia community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PhD graduate 1998
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:53 am

I was urged to attend ITP (can't bring myself to say "Sofia") to prepare for a career in clinical psychology. A wise mentor told me that would be where I could train to be a great therapist, rather than a mediocre one. She was not an ITP alumnus herself, but knew many who were. Her observation was that psychologists who are educated in the ITP manner (at least in the 90s) emerged with a keen sense of how to help a person heal mind, body, AND spirit. She also observed that these therapists came out of training self-aware, compassionate, integrated, and grounded.

It is so sad to see this fine school spiral out of control. How could things have gone so awry? It's unseemly. It's crude. It's unspeakably unprofessional. It's everything you don't want your alma mater to be. This is not the school I proudly attended. Over the years I have had many patients seek me out because I was an ITP graduate; the school had a reputation for turning out well-qualified and talented professionals. ITP is worth fighting for. I will sign that petition. I will stand by the current students trying to get the training I was fortunate enough to get. Good luck!


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Posted by Confused
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 20, 2013 at 11:55 am

Let me get this straight: Kind submitted his resignation 12/14, effective 12/31; fired 11 staff 12/19; and has been authorized by the remaining 3 of 10 trustees to "restructure" the school over the 10 days he has left, including two weekends and Christmas?


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Posted by PhD graduate 1998
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm

And nobody knows where the money is.


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Posted by Pinecone
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Do people think this president King guy committed any actual crimes? If so, get the authorities to investigate right away, before he tampers with any (more) evidence. I'm reading about people all upset about King not being true to Sofia's values or mission. But that's not a crime in this state. Did he steal money? Did he commit fraud on anyone? Tax evasion? Those are things the authorities can act on.


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Posted by Frustrated Former Staffer
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm

The article reports admissions may have dropped off. I'm not surprised with the turmoil of the name change, allegations against President King, plus the entirety of the admissions team turned over twice over the last two years. Admissions is the lifeblood of continuing the university's legacy.


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Posted by Brigitte
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 20, 2013 at 3:07 pm

These news should not be of surprise. As a member of the counseling community, I can attest that a handful of students have been bringing forth complaints about the school for the past 10 years, and the way the school is so misleading. The administration is so very passive about solving any issues. Students have been recruited by the school while going through life transitions, and led into a long term degree program. Graduates have paid in excess of 300,000 for a degree only to find years later that the wages in the field are nowhere near what they need to make to pay student loans. Their curriculum has a lot to desire. While a few good therapists might teach at the school, the experiential part of the program has been real sketchy. The nonprofit community has been at awe hearing what the graduates learned in the school. A handful of graduates have been vocal with the administration over the past years with great concerns about the program. My advise to students,in all honesty, is to run... do the inner work on your time, and attend another school. A lot of great therapists have done it that way. Don't pick battles that might harm you as a professional. Do a service to yourself, and attend another school.


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Posted by Dukkha-baby
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 21, 2013 at 7:29 am

Some important things have gone unsaid in all of the hyperventilation that is occurring now. The lame-duck president may be a plague on ITP's house, but the institution invited what it had coming. This now neutered, lame duck didn't get through the front doors on his own, but with willing consent of those for whom he was going to realize certain highly controversial goals. There was also a dynamic at ITP that called him forth, that conjured his presence. This entire misguided venture has now (surprise, surprise) backfired. Those who don't think the culture and nature of ITP invited this predicament don't know what has happened there over time, are willfully closing their eyes, are unaware of cause and effect, or are incapable of objective assessments. Those who wish for the old times, or think that things will return to "normal" if/when he leaves are even more deluded. It was that "normal" which invited the cause-and-effect, harrowing corrective course ITP has been on for over two decades.

Underneath the veneer of self-styled "transpersonal" values and the appearance of collaborative decision-making at ITP, there have long been humongous egos, machiavellian intrigues and untranspersonal dealings of various kinds and degrees. It's just that now, those who created problems for others in the past, or drove them out with innuendo and bullying tactics, are on the receiving end of the stick--and they are crying foul. What a joke! What universal justice!! Behind the scenes, the issues are always the same: power struggles between those possessing the real talking stick and the disempowered who get silenced and dumped on. After the facts and the truth become victims (which they always do), people are the next in line, regardless of who is running the show. What a wonderfully "enlightened" transpersonal drama. It makes me nauseous.

If all of this has a happy ending, it will only be because certain individuals and the institution as a whole now have the opportunity to reflect--if they are ready, willing and capable-on their own shadow projections and "spiritual" stench. Given the deadwood and historical rot at ITP, what is now happening (the proverbial chickens coming come to roost) is perhaps the best chance for this place to come to terms with its own hypocrisy and to wake up to the gapping chasm between professed transpersonalism and actual values/practices.

But I predict this will not come to pass. Sooner or later, the force that has been brought down on this institution will dissipate and vanish, and things will return to "normal." I imagine unredeemed characters who left or who were fired returning with more conviction than ever, and the freak show then continuing. Moreover, opportunists who adroitly maneuvered around the shoals and were never forced to leave will circle the wagon with those who return, together continuing to be an embarrassment to the "transpersonal" claims of this institution as they resurrect the "glory" days. The merry times will continue folks. It's called homeostasis.


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Posted by Student
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 21, 2013 at 10:01 am

I am a graduate student in my 3rd year at Sofia/ITP (2 more years to go) and I have already invested over $110,000 in my education at this school. I am outraged by what is going on and am fearful for my future here. So many of our professors were fired - I honestly don't know how we are going to start classes in 2 weeks. Thank you for posting this article.


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Posted by Dr. Nye
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2013 at 10:34 am

Dr. Nye is a registered user.

I would like to respond to Dukkha-baby, who, I hope, is tracking this thread, because his/hers is a very important voice. I agree that homeostasis will take over if things are left as they were before. But we are not only under the spell of "hyperventilation." This movement is unlike anything I have ever seen at ITP (and I've been connected with the school for over 10 years), nor have ever heard of. There is a real energy behind it. This gives us a chance to effect some real changes.

I invite you, Dukkha-baby, to join the conversation at the "Occupy Sofia / Liberate ITP" Facebook group (Web Link), and add your very important voice to the fray, if you care at all about what happens to the school. Contact me at fabrice@life.net.


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Posted by Brenda
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

This is a sad event. My thoughts got out to the students, and to the fired teachers. I attended an event at this school a few years ago, and wasn't too impressed. They criticize a lot other schools for not being "spiritual enough" More than a school, the place seemed to be, more so, a covert modern day church. They draw quite a bit on students to fund their venture, and I think that's not right. Students pay large amounts to be members of a small spiritual community. My friend transferred out of "Sofia" after one quarter, to the school I was attending. I guess we were placed on the Alumni list because after a couple of months, we started receiving self-addressed envelopes from Sofia, asking for donations with a minimum of $50.00, $100, $200, and, an additional space in blank suggesting another higher amount. That was outrageous. The enveloped contained a blurred out picture of the president making him look like a saint, and a line saying..."help a student stay in school." We found out it is common practice to ask for donations from students soon after they leave the school. The school just seems to be out of touch. Students are still placed in internships making as little as $10.00 or $15.00 per hour accruing hours for the license requirement when they are the target of aggressive marketing, and donation campaigns. I have known of people paying $500.000 for a Ph.D program at Sofia, which goes on for five or six years. Their program fails a lot to address the spiritual bypassing syndrome, and they have a hard time even defining what transpersonal meant. At one of my internship sites, one of their trainees would take at least 20 minutes before presenting a case, just trying to define or ranting about what transpersonal practices were supposed to be. Students get entrenched in the internal dynamics of the school, that are decades old, in ways that do not seem appropriate.
I only give credit to some of the teachers for their good work such as the creators of psychosinthesis. However, their training was mostly with the founder of that work, and they have a separate certification in their own location. It costs a lot less than the exorbitant fees the school charges, and it has more practical applications.


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Posted by Graduate
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm

To those who discount ITP:
ITP is like Montessorie for adults—would you discount a Montesorrie school for children in your community? Let's get back to the roots of ITP; focus our intention; and walk with eyes open boldly forward together.
ITP nurtures not just therapists, but people interested in a whole education. If anything this type of education, which is a work in progress, is desperately needed in our world: the problems we all face require critical and creative thinking, people who are present and working on themselves to be able to better contribute and be fully engaged in the world (the real work). Many students are at ITP to nurture a second or third career, maybe one not necessarily bent on making money . . .
Students, staff, teachers, are called by the transpersonal; are excited I'm sure to be finally in a place in which the whole does matter. We cannot afford to lose this school in our community . . .
It sounds like Neal King's reign was largely about moving the school into the mainstream; and is made up of misguided steps; but those systems (pseudo-cooperative governance, top-down decision making, etc.) don't always work and I would venture to say discount the spiritual and the body; we need transpersonal leadership, people who walk their talk, models of inclusivity.
There's nothing wrong with transpersonal psychology, it just took a leap forward and a small step back . . .


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Posted by Jessica
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2013 at 10:14 am

These news are so very shocking and brazen for a higher education entity.
It makes perfect sense why the department of education created a committee to track & receive complaints about private higher education institutions. I'm just amazed at the level of disconnect between such crucial internal elements of an educational institution. It all trickles down to students.


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Posted by Psychology Gal
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2013 at 11:58 am

First to Dukkha-baby, while you make some interesting points, some of which seem to have some validity, I find your comments regarding the "spiritual stench" "deadwood and rot" deeply offensive. My experience as a Ph.D. graduate of ITP/Sofia was that the spiritual template was experienced from the heart-level and was totally authentic. My experience was that yes, there were a small handful of faculty (a very small number) who might need a bit of rejuvenation, but on the whole, I found the faculty to be professional, student-focused and superior. From a transpersonal perspective, I hope you will reconsider your terse position.

And to Brigitte, maybe you didn't notice but ITP/Sofia offers an education in transpersonal psychology that is NOT limited to clinical applications. There are those of us who are researchers and professors at other institutions who are ITP grads. Was our choice to attend ITP wise ... time will tell. Students always have gripes about their school as that is part of being a student. Students of ITP were well served; however, my experience has been that once Dr. King came aboard and brought a complete lack of transparency, a total misunderstanding of transpersonal values, and harassment of faculty and staff that Sofia has not delivered on the promise in the way that ITP delivered.

What I would like to see now is success on the part of the faculty & student effort to reconstitute ITP and dump the Sofia name FOREVER!!!!!!!


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Posted by Black n Blue
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Brigitte has made some very valid and important statements that should not be overlooked. Apparently, if a student attended this school after it became Sofia Univeraity! prospective employers would not take a degree from that school seriously--it is less credible. Rather like a degree from a for-profit school vs a degree from a UC.

As long as I have lived here (15+years), this institution has been thought of as an esoteric, fluffy, cultish, feel-good school of. O real value. If that does not change very soon, you might as well hang it up and close it down.


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Posted by redpill
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I get what Dukkha-baby and Brigitte are saying. I agree that their observations should not be dismissed, but pondered deeply by all seeking personal integrity, especially those on the clinical track.

For somebody merely getting a degree in Transpersonal studies (even if it's one of those over-priced "doctorate" degrees), the olfactory sensitivity to spiritual stench may not be as sharp as for somebody being trained in the clinical end of things. To begin with, transpersonal clinicians (and perhaps even more so, spiritual guides) are judged by a different standard: ethically, morally and/or spiritually they must walking-the-talk. They have a fiduciary duty and, if they are to have any legitimacy in the eyes of the community the live in, those they supposedly serve and those they teach (that goes especially for the faculty at ITP), they will have to come out smelling really good on the spiritual hypocrisy scale. In short, here we have certain considerations that those merely pursuing a Transpersonal degree do not have, and judging by previous comments, don't begin to grasp.

Now, having established a context we can work with, let's just look at one, but a major, example of the hypocrisy and stench alluded to be others. Let's travel down the rabbit hole a little deeper, shall we?

Consider for a moment that many (probably 83% plus, including psychiatrists, psychologists, spiritual "guides", MFTs, etc.) at ITP giddily embraced not just this, but also another "president" without any apparent reservations ... never showing any discernment or inclination to seriously question background or qualifications simply because he had "cred" in their circles. Having been fool-heartedly declared as a force for good and "one of their own," they enthusiastically applauded him when he undeservedly got the Noble Peace Prize, and were even more than happy to give him free reign to codify Bush's transgressions and commit countless additional civil liberties and human rights transgressions of his own, sheepishly looking on as they did while he busily dismantled the Bill of Rights, eliminated any vestiges of privacy for the human race (I won't even get into the implications of this for the helping professions), and strengthened the pesky American tendency of silencing and disowning, and if necessary, killing those who oppose empire (all for maintaining supremacy and for money, money, money). Astonishingly, these same transpersonal individuals, also embrace the idea of people becoming debt-slaves to a soulless juggernaut by going further and further in debt so that ITP coffers can be filled with government dollars and so that students can get what is increasingly becoming--given this economy, the state of the world and many transpersonal acolytes undeveloped level of consciousness--little more than a vanity degree.

So, what you have here are a bunch of sanctimonious people preaching love, non-violence and self-agency giving an ego-maniac a free hand to declare himself king, take down his country, declare hunting season on all who oppose him, and by doing all of this, tightening and worsening the noose of the matrix we all live in? All of which sounds eerily similar to what they apparently allowed to happen at ITP. The fact that this so highly "inclusive", "enlightened" and "transpersonal" community enables people like this to be in the driver seat as they rampage through peoples' lives makes them responsible for the all the misery that follows, something that would be hilarious if it weren't for the fact that it is an outrage of the first order. It completely discredits them in a multitude of fundamental ways (getting a whiff of the spiritual hubris and stench yet?). The flawed discernment of this "progressive" bunch of "deep transpersonal" thinkers appears to have a knack for repeatedly bring heart-breaking grief, misery and destruction into the world, while all along the fancy themselves to be the light of the world that cools fevers and heals people's trauma.

The questions people need to ask themselves are, What horribly god-forsaken, rationalizing and/or naive views do we have about ourselves, our conception of transpersonalism (or spirituality) and the world we live in? as well as What do we need to change about ourselves as human beings so as to avoid visiting untold harm upon others, including those we teach, advise and counsel? That should be the primary consideration above all else. Getting to the bottom of these questions would presumably help them to then answer why ITP is so collectively dysfunctional as an institution.

Those who are inclined to swallow the red pill can go to Youtube and begin their journey by first listening to what Chris Hedges (former seminarian, NY Times war correspondent, Pulitzer prize winner, and unabashed truth-teller) has to say about the Death of the Liberal Class and their perniciously misguided tendency to think of themselves as the standard-bearers of the down-trodden and oppressed, as well as all that is good, true and right (cough, cough).


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Posted by Jen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 23, 2013 at 9:34 am

This is unbelievable! Some questions I have....how did it get so bad, and so quickly? My understanding is the administrators and even students have been involved in this and prior president's hiring process, and to ensure it's a fit. Did they not have an ongoing communication process between all parts? I'm really curious what all parts have to say. And...Brenda...you're not entirely right, one of my roommates graduated from the school, and received those envelopes you talk about... in the last year of her studies. They did not even wait for students to graduate to start fundraising. The picture in the envelopes is not the president. It's a picture of the founder Robert Frager who is an ordained spiritual leader in an Islamic order. The school is definitely for profit. Apparently, their motto is to provide a "safe" and warm, cozy environment to attract students, and make them feel comfortable. I'm not saying it might not be genuine. It simply might not reflect current world's reality


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Posted by J.R PhD graduate
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Okay...my understanding is that the school sends those envelopes seasonally, and started doing that about 6 years ago. Apparently, last year they didn't send any. I became skeptical after the name change. It looked like everyone was pretty involved in it with community meetings, online group discussions, etc. It appeared as if the school was self-actualizing at the time, but that name...why change it. I agree with others that employers would be wondering about it, and with two other schools using that name, one in Bulgaria, and another one in Japan using that name...


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Posted by Rejuvenated mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm

This is the same school that used to housed on San Antonio rd., down the street from the old Sun Microsystems' campus. I walked in a couple times with my husband while our car was being serviced next door. I'm surprised the school actually expanded. Our impressions were that 1) this was an alternative, holistic institute/clinic 2) it offered certificates, meditation classes, and evening programs in some of the disciplines. 3) rented spaces to acupuncturists/hypnotherapists. They had a large space where people meditated, and stretched. The people there were nice, warm, and subtle. We never imagined it would actually expand to offer bachelors degrees, and other programs. I'd be looking at patterns in administration/management.


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Posted by Carly
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2013 at 9:57 am

I'm appalled this sort of thing happens in educational institutions. It disrupts any learning process. I'd expect a deep investigation by pertinent agencies as it appears that there's a pattern of poor management. I wonder why...


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Posted by George
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 24, 2013 at 10:43 am

They sure could use a management consultant! looks like the guy was trying to stir things up, change something....but didn't go well with the rest. Come out of woods Neal explain what you did. I'm real curious as to why it got to that point. And..that name..hmmm. It sure looks like there was something else going on


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Posted by Shink ..to be or not to be
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I'm all for quality education, but I'm sorry to report I've never heard many positive things about this place. If I were a student there, I would be looking for a school to transfer, and get my money back.


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Posted by FlowerGirl
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I've been watching this fiasco for some time and it surprises me how the students who are emotionally activated by all of this fail to see the pattern of action and how they are now being used in a power play in order to help the side they feel more sympathetic towards win. They fail to see that they are not only being manipulated to act on the behalf of people who handed the keys to the transpersonal kingdom to an autocratic non-believer, but that they are doing so at their own expense.

As another commenter has noted, this did not happen without the blessing or blindness of the people who eventually lost their jobs and are now rallying the troops to protest in order to 'restore' the values of the school. Many seem to have failed to realize that the community meeting with Bob Frager, Paul Roy, etc. occurred on the eve of those parties losing their jobs and only after further cuts to staff benefits were at hand (loss to retirement benefits and health insurance). Up until the staff and administration saw the hair that held the sword of Damocles's start to badly fray, they turned a blind eye to the erosion of the school's culture and dismissed the concerns of the students about the change in the name of the school.

Only now that these people have lost their jobs are they advocating that people fight for the school. However, the battle for the school's culture cannot be won by petitioning the attorney general or withholding tuition. The only thing that can be done is that the people at the top (president and board), most of whom have already resigned, can be influenced. The people who put the school in this pickle in the first place are apparently hoping that, when the deck gets reshuffled, they get dealt back in.

If the students exert the pressure they are being manipulated to place upon the overseers of non-profit agencies, they risk the eventual discrediting of the school and its possible dissolution. Since the parties who are pulling their strings have already lost their jobs (and only came out and placed themselves at risk when they knew they were going to lose them), they have nothing to lose. Students, on the other hand, have already made an investment in time and money in their education and may lose the capacity to continue their education. Those who have tried to transfer from Sofia to other private graduate schools already know that the credits obtained from Sofia are largely not accepted by other schools. If the school is dissolved (as a non-profit, it cannot be sold, but it can have its assets sold off to other non-profits if it is no longer viable – a risk that will be faced if students withhold tuition or enrollment is too low from too many protest-based "sabbaticals"), there is a risk that all of the cash and time already spent will be flushed down the crapper.

Take a look at the timeline of action and what the outcome will be. The culture cannot be restored through the plans of action that are being taken. The only thing that can be restored is the power of the people who put you in this unhappy position in the first place.


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Posted by Clark
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Just saw a segment of the community meeting. For this to take place at a "school" of psychology is alarming. The dynamics people describe can be seen clearly. I'm assuming the students protesting and siding with one side are the more philosophical track than the clinical one, people who go into grassroots movements, or to become "group" leaders. These dynamics have been brewing for years, and prior generations have attempted to self-actualize, perhaps mainstream the school. They have been resisting all too long, and it boils down to this. This is pathetic, I must say.


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Posted by Josh
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm

This is so cynical! to say the least. My brother goes to this school. Yep...a lot of the classes do not transfer! somber Christmas news. Thanks for the article tho more informative than others or the school itself.


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Posted by Autumn
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2013 at 11:18 am

I have feel moved to speak....some of the classes, but not all of them, are not transferable. A lot of classes are transferable. The school offers liberal arts degrees in things like spiritual counseling, women's spirituality, creative expression, and also more traditional ones like psychology. For a lot of us, it's a lifestyle change, more than an a traditional school experience. I have liked the academic freedom students are given. I have been able to explore different parts of the Self...with each class I explore a different "persona." Teachers are very warm, nice, and flexible with students knowing that we do deep exploratory work into the collective psyche.


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Posted by Eliana
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

This is upsetting indeed. I hope they don't merge with the California institute of integral studies in the city, which is supposed to share similar "values." That school has some kind of controversy brewing every semester. Questionable "theories", teachers from abroad are often sponsored by the school. Me and my boyfriend attended a movement-based meditation that we thought sounded interesting. It turned out to involve a "body-kneading" process with a lot of touch, attended by a crowd from the pro-nudism movement. At the end we were given hand outs with information on expensive, additional workshops ...when that should've happened at the beginning.


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Posted by Hannah B
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I think the school brought this on themselves...Life presents you what you need to revise. In the late 90s and early 00's, there was a bright group of PhD students a lot of whom came from more traditional schools, and attempted to shed light on some of these dynamics from the inside. From the Ken Wilber's line of work, they were superb lecturers. A sense of dynamism was prevalent at the time, and a questioning about the organizing principles of the school was happening. I'm not sure if they continued. I think there was resistance from the school to deep inquire, to actualize.


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Posted by Jingles mom
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 25, 2013 at 7:49 pm

The crowd I witnessed when I had to do business at their old location on San Antonio rd...did not seem subtle to me, at all. Each time I had to come to the building, there was chanting going on, humming, circles of people holding hands in the parking lot, or people hugging & calming each other. I was overtaken at first, and eventually got used to it. It sounds like they couldn't afford anymore the huge buildings they moved to in the corporate side of town. I wonder why a more inexpensive location, or rural setting was not chosen, unless they really wanted to stay in Palo Alto, or got some sort of rental break. And now this... I just hope students get the money back if things fall apart.


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Posted by Concerned Student
a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2013 at 3:37 am

I am interested in the perspective put forth by Flower Girl - yes, it's a bit cynical, but on the other hand she does make an interesting point. And yet, I am still concerned about the people who now have the power, however they may have acquired it. My fear is that Dr. Ellsworth may be just another incarnation of Dr. King, based on his track record as documented in the New York Times.
Web Link
To be honest, I am concerned that going to WASC may not play in the favor of those of us who are currently enrolled at ITP/Sofia. While I am devastated by the recent firings and by the turmoil that has been brewing, on a practical level, I am hoping to get something for the time, effort and money I have invested, which means I would like to graduate from SOMEWHERE.
Did Dr. King and the board mismanage things? It seems likely that they did. Was it simple mismanagment, or was it something worse and more sinister? Without transparency, it is hard to speculate accurately, which leads us all to draw our own conclusions - and my take is this: whatever actually happened, the lack of transparency alone looks very bad on the part of the former president and the current board. To the board and Dr. Ellsworth, please, do yourselves and everyone else a favor, and open the books if you have nothing to hide. Let's sort this out and move forward!


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Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 26, 2013 at 11:11 am

What a disconcerting situation to face! It is evident the institution needs to be intervened upon. For as long as I can remember this place have been thought of as an alternative, "touchy-feely" type of institution. Anytime you mix deep spiritual beliefs and education it lends itself to cult-like dynamics! I have known of students who are "sponsored" from places in Asia to attend this place, and it hasn't turned out good. My niece met someone at a hospice she volunteered. This gal brought all her savings to attend the spiritual programs, which didn't last too long. We invited her to dinner numerous times! Can you imagine a girl venturing by herself to a country very different than her own, brought on the premises of spirituality. I hope the institution is transferred out of Palo Alto. It creates a negative image for Palo Alto businesses.


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Posted by Shut it down
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

This cult-like and scandal-ridden place should be investigated by the authorities and then shut down, if necessary. it is one of those questionable institutions that give Palo Alto a bad name.


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Posted by Zachary
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm

What a managerial mess they've got here, and students or "community members" are getting pulled to the middle of it all. It does sound like idolization of tendencies


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Posted by Pat
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 27, 2013 at 8:01 am

Good grief!! I agree with previous participants, this institution needs to be investigated as a whole. It makes a good business case-scenario for a management consultant! Some of the students get multiple degrees from here...wow...such an investment.


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Posted by Concerned parent II
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I agree with you Pat. I'm concerned about the students' situation and how it might play out. Hopefully it's a win/win situation, and this is just a transition management issue.

As a parent, I'm even more concerned about how the situation has been handled by the players, and by the veteran students of this organization. From what I've read, it's clear there's been a larger and chronic (over time) pattern here; even if the president has resigned, or he has been asked to do so. And, if he was asked to "restructure" the place in such a short time frame. Is there even a students' Ombuds at this entity??

As a student, I would be talking to other schools, academic counselors, and would get a copy of my transcripts ....just in case.


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Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2013 at 6:27 pm

In response to: Shut it down

I find your post VERY offensive. This was not my experience at ITP in any way. I have stayed an observer of this scandal, except for signing the petition, for the most part and hoped it would be worked out for the best for everyone. I cannot let that particular comment go without response. My time, education, and experiences there largely changed my life in a positive way. I am sorry you didn't get the same out of it, but I believe you are way off base in your evaluation of a place so close to my heart.


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Posted by Concerned parent III
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

The fact that these issues concern an educational institution is what's particularly alarming to parents. We're still coming off a bad economy, and solid, reliable educational institutions are a must. More than ever, we face world issues that are unprecedented.


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Posted by Dan
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm

looking for a school to study philosophy or human development, i attended an open house, lecture at this school about three years ago. Yes, the people were nice, but i wasn't very convinced with the programs or research methods they offered, to spend that kind of money. It seems as if they had a small niche market so i don't understand the expansion they undertook. I feel for the students.


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Posted by Itza Rip
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm

It has always seemed to me that this school offered far too little for far too much money. Their degrees are not professionally recognized on most places. They are one of those " for profit" schools that your counselors always warned you about.


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Posted by Jill
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm

The thing that was already in place even before King came aboard. Like the other comment-er said earlier, run...


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Posted by Susan
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 29, 2013 at 11:35 am

OMG this is so grotesque!, considering it is a school of psychology. So many dysfunctional patterns here.


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Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Hmmm....as a Palo Alto resident, I would like to draw a distinction here. This school's education does not compare to the kind of overall experience a student receives at Stanford. A Stanford degree makes someone much more competitive and appealing in the labor market. In that sense, you do get more value for the investment made. The kind of real-time exposure and services Stanford students receive throughout the course of their studies there, makes the investment worthwhile. Of course, if someone is looking for spiritual education, you might not consider Stanford. Comparing the two schools and implying that Sofia's education is broader than Stanford's is not accurate.


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Posted by Mimi
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 30, 2013 at 7:38 pm

The school is not accredited by the APA. I believe they have been at it for many years but it hasn't worked


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Posted by Moo Cow
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 13, 2014 at 12:18 am

You know what I love about this drama, after I've spent almost a decade at ITP/Sofia? I'm FINALLY seeing honesty. HONESTY. People are finally "telling it like it is" and I revel in it.

I once thought the world of the school but I've seen it's dark side and it's dark side has little to do with Neal King. I'm with Dukkha-baby on this one.


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