On July 17, 2015, six U.S. senators, [Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.)] issued a press release and letter, calling on Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, to “investigate allegations that a number of questionable unaccredited educational institutions have received G.I. Bill benefits despite federal regulations to prevent it.”

[Update: as of July 20, 2015, two more senators have joined in asking for an investigation: Jack Reed (D-RI) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.]
The letter to McDonald, which accompanies the press release announcement on Senator Feinstein’s website, references “GI bill pays for unaccredited sex, Bible, and massage schools,” by Aaron Glantz in Reveal: “The report documents a number of educationally questionable, and in some instances morally repugnant, institutions that have inexplicably received VA education benefits. These include an unlicensed massage therapy school, an institute whose parent organization is a listed hate group, and an institute on human sexuality claiming to be in possession of child pornography.”

That last school is my alma mater and former employer, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS) in San Francisco, CA. I am a two-time IASHS grad (2008, 2011). I served as Dean of Students from August 2014 to March 2015. For four years I created and taught a 150-hour online segment of a 300-hour dual-certificate course. As of March, 2015, I resigned abruptly and am no longer associated with IASHS in any professional or personal way. I have facts, and I have perspective.

The senators say, “The VA is charged with protecting our veterans from unscrupulous entities by enforcing federal regulations allowing only those institutions whose instruction is ‘consistent in quality, content, and length’ with accredited institutions.”

Glantz’s article purports to uncover a scandal of using G.I. Bill funds to provide education and training to veterans at nonaccredited vocational and educational institutions, a practice which is actually allowed with certain guidelines. However the article does not measure up as investigative reporting. Glantz builds his case against IASHS on the basis of embarrassing and unprofessional comments and actions by the school’s founder, Dr. Ted McIlvenna. However, the article does not present a strong factual case for including the institute in the investigation, given the above criteria of measuring a program’s “consistent quality, content, length.” Aside from the fact that “sex sells,” there does not seem to be a good reason for Glantz to include IASHS in his expose. There are no complaints against the school on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website and very few veterans have actually studied at IASHS using “taxpayer money.”

With regard to IASHS, Glantz did not present much of substance. His chief beef with IASHS seems to be the fact that such a graduate school acutally exists, that it includes masturbation in the curriculum (as all college level human sexuality programs will), and that it contains the above mentioned restricted materials in its library (though the materials are under lock and key, inaccessible to the public, apparently allowed to be there under CA penal code 311-312.7). That it takes G.I. bill funds seems secondary in Glantz’s treatment of the school. Please note: there are no complaints against IASHS noted on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

I cannot judge the merits of Glantz’s investigation of the other schools in his article, but are many problems with his journalistic treatment of IASHS.

In order to generate reader outrage, Glantz refers to IASHS as a “sex school” – barely acknowledging its actual status as a private graduate school permitted to grant academic and professional degrees by the State of California since 1976 (approved, but not accredited). (IASHS was previously accredited, but the agency went out of business.)

More importantly, Glantz also fails to mention that CA law SB1247 (September 2014) has forced IASHS and other non-accredited schools to either seek accreditation pronto or go out of business. In spite of Dr. Ted’s personal feelings about accreditation (as expressed in the article), IASHS has complied with SB1247 by submitting a plan to seek accreditation to the CA Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (PBBE). In June, 2015, the BPPE approved the school’s plan to apply for accreditation through WASC Senior College and University Commission. (FYI, the school has not operated without oversight. BPPE conducts periodic inspections. Here is an inspection report from July 2014.) IASHS must now commit itself to a complex, expensive, time-consuming process lasting several years before achieving accreditation. Or die trying.

I am also surprised by the following:

Glantz does not interview any graduates of the school, or take note of the many leaders in the field of human sexuality who have attended, graduated, and/or lectured at IASHS. He does not mention publications, books, or educational programs and institutions created by IASHS alumni.

Glantz does not mention that the student body usually consists of medical and mental health professionals, authors, counselors, and community sex educators, as well as bodyworkers, veterans, and others attracted to the field of human sexuality. G.I. bill students are not in the majority.

Glantz does not mention that IASHS courses and degrees are accepted by the nationally respected American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) as meeting their educational requirements for those who seek AASECT certification. Many IASHS graduates apply for and achieve AASECT certification after a process which includes supervision and a certain number of clinical or educational practice hours. I have heard that about half of AASECT’s presidents have been IASHS-trained.
Glantz covers infractions, bankruptcies, and other unethical behavior associated with other schools and school owners and managers in his article. But he fails to make a similar case against IASHS – except for his conversation with the school’s founder.

Glantz does not examine or compare the IASHS human sexuality curriculum with programs in accredited institutions – such as the new human sexuality Ph.D. program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He does compare the number of hours IASHS students accrue in various sexuality courses, as compared with the number of hours required by AASECT. If he had, he would have discovered that IASHS course hours exceed AASECT requirements. Glantz does not discuss what is required to earn a certificate, or either a professional or academic degree at the school. He does not provide examples of dissertation topics.

Glantz offers no information or statistics as to employment or self-employment of alumni in general or veterans in particular.

Glantz does not examine the professional organizations and ethics that govern graduates in their clinical practice.

Glantz doesn’t mention what clinical sexologists actually do – which is help people to manage sexual dysfunctions and create more and better intimacy in their lives. Veterans, having many addtional challenges and disruptions to family life and intimacy (not to mention injuries which may cause dysfunction), are a group of people who generally have a proven need for trained assistance in this area.

Glantz has also chosen to portray the school’s founder and president, Dr. Ted McIlvenna, in the worst possible light. Unfortunately, “Dr. Ted” made this easy for him. On his home turf, Dr. Ted frequently demonstrates a tendency to go for shock value when he could be more mindful of occasions requiring professionalism and gravitas. Dr. Ted forgets that what he says and does may reflect on the students and alumni of the school – in this case, very poorly – or that he may alienate potential students. In the interview with Glantz, Dr. Ted says that only a doctorate will open the door to the restricted materials, then proceeds to reveal them to Glantz, a journalist (who to my knowledge does not the have requisite doctorate). All of this shows remarkably inept judgment from someone who should know better. In any other organizational structure, Dr. Ted’s behavior would probably lead to a reprimand or even a call for resignation, given that his remarks are now prompting a call for a federal investigation into the school. But IASHS is family owned and operated.

In their letter, the senators referred to “morally repugnant” institutions. And here I must share my own feelings of personal and professional repugnance and dismay. I have always considered IASHS to be a school which promotes a humane understanding of the broadest possible range of human sexual behavior. As students and professionals, we are challenged to examine our own prejudices, fears, and desires – and are expected to refrain from inflicting shame on anyone who comes to us for help, but who may have very different desires and behaviors than our own. IASHS education challenged me to forge a set of standards, practices and ethics which I would adhere to in the service of sexology and my clients. I knew pretty quickly that I would not work with sexual offenders, particularly pedophiles. I made a conscious choice to work only with adult clients who are engaged in consensual behavior.

Every IASHS student is told that the restricted materials are allowed on the campus for serious research purposes only (most likely under CA penal code 111-112.7, though the code is never named).

So it sickens me that these materials are exploited as conversational shock value by the IASHS founder, and bandied about as such by the article’s writer. For me, this is where the charge of institutionally morally repugant behavior has some merit. If such materials do have bonafide research value to people seeking to understand and treat sexual offenders, then these materials should be respected (just as we would respect the historical value of materials documenting genocide and other reprehensible human tragedies). We cannot argue that these are important academic documents, and then trivialize them in this manner. These materials were created through cruelty and suffering. We should remember that real people, real children, were made to submit to abuse and sexual violence in order to create such images. We should not make the documentation of their pain and powerlessness a joke or a source of cheap conversational titillation, under any circumstances – including the “let’s make it viral” promotion of a piece of journalism. I condemn Dr. Ted’s, and the writer’s, treatment of this subject.

So I worry that lack of Dr. Ted’s gravitas in the treatment of these materials will undermine the legal argument that he has them on the premises for legitimate educational purposes. If this is not true, it creates a potential risk for students who may not be protected by CA penal code 311-312.7 after all.

Aside from this matter, if IASHS is included in an investigation led by the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, then let it be included for the right reasons: to assess its curriculum, materials, operations, and policies in accordance with the standards set in place for educational excellence, particularly as compared to other graduate level human sexuality programs. Let the veterans who have trained there make a case for the school, or against. Let other graduates add their voices, opinions, and experiences.

It is my fervent hope that the upcoming accreditation process (through WASC) will provide IASHS with an opportunity to reform, to update its curriculum, and to correct deficiencies in staffing and policies. I hope an Academic Dean will be hired (there hasn’t been one for many years). I hope the current Dean of Students is allowed to thrive and grow in her position. I hope that a truly independent governing board will be established (as required by WASC), one which can implement high standards of professional management. I hope that the school will refocus its mission and financial resources on the needs of the students. It is my hope that one day the operations of the school will no longer be governed by personal foibles.

IASHS is unique. It has a treasure trove of historical material, including decades of lectures by many of “the greats” of sexology. Though the school has seen vastly better days, and is in dire need of updated curricula and programs, the people who continue to enroll and graduate are usually stellar and go on to become dedicated clinicians, educators, and advocates who are trained to work compassionately with people in an area too often neglected or glossed over by other professionals. Though the school is in need of reform, it does not deserve to be condemned through a puritanical promotional stunt or subjected to a political witchhunt.

I’d like my tax dollars to be spent some other way, thank you.

7/20/15 UPDATE:

Dr. Michael Ra Bouchard, also an IASHS-trained sexologist, has posted the following in LinkedIn and also given permission for me to share his thoughts here:

Thanks for superbly articulating a measured response to this disturbing article, Amy.

For the record, as both a graduate and faculty member of IASHS, I know for a fact that no one involved with the Institute, including Dr. Ted of all people, would ever make light of anyone’s suffering at the hand of sexual abuse or for that matter any other form of cruelty or abuse.

On the contrary, the Institute’s “Sexual Bill of Rights” which Dr. Ted helped to create is quite specific that sexual abuse, constraint, coercion, exploitation, violence, fraud, and all nonconsensual actions imposed upon others are incompatible with our values and are therefore always reprehensible.

Sensationalizing sexuality and going for the lowest common denominator are long time favorites of journalists, and why not, as such a tact often succeeds in garnering much sought-after attention to their story.

In this instance the writer’s apparent tendency for sensationalism and Ted’s own propensity for shock value combusted when the highly inflammatory topic of sexual abuse was mixed in. While unfortunate, no real harm was done except to the Institute and Dr. Ted’s reputation.

Human beings are notoriously fallible; despite the article’s flippant portrayal of Dr. Ted, anyone who knows him knows that he is a good man who has dedicated his life to the betterment of his fellow man. He and the Institute deserve much better than this hatchet job.

There is no need for a congressional witch hunt of the Institute as there are no witches there to find, let alone burn. If there is to be any congressional investigation, let it be on how we can improve the sexual health and happiness of our people.

Just imagine all the good that could be done for America should our government and the Institute actually work together towards the betterment of all Americans by designing sound national policies and comprehensive sexuality education programs that promote the sexual health and wellbeing of everyone throughout the country.

Now wouldn’t that be wonderful!