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Martial Arts in Action: An update on the situation at Sofia University

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A friend closely involved with the evolving drama at Sofia University wrote to a group of us, observing, “This is a Greek tragedy of epic proportions.”

In the midst of this drama is Robert Frager, the school’s Founder and also as most of you know, one of O Sensei’s direct students. He continues to use his extensive Aikido knowledge and skills to right this floundering ship. And it is important to remember that the dojo at Sofia University is an important if not critical part of our larger Bay Area Aikido/Martial Arts community. Not only because of Frager Sensei being a direct student, but also because of the legacy there from the late Kato Sensei, and the many other important teachers who had taught there include such luminaries as John Stevens.

Specifically, what led up to the current situation can essentially be laid at the feet of one person and one person alone: the university’s president, Neal King. His actions include (this is the very short list) those outlined in this chronology:

-Taking recommendations from key financial, administrative and academic personnel for the past two plus years at Sofia and doing the opposite of what they recommended. When the predicted disastrous results occurred, as the people in these key positions warned King, he blamed them. He would then fire the person, force them to quit or the person would resign in disgust.

-King changed the name of the school without the advice or input of the faculty or students. This was all done in total secrecy with King’s hand picked Board of Trustees. As a result, according to sources close to this writer, the University lost much if not all of its alumni support including major benefactors and donors. Many past students and employees who have contacted this writer have said the new name is terrible.

-He announced a financial crisis and said all salaries needed to be reduced by 10% across the board. Subsequently, he announced another financial shortfall stating additional salary reductions with faculty, staff and administrative including layoffs would be necessary. While this was unfolding, King had his hand picked Board of Trustees grant him a 5-year extension on his contract—once again without any input from faculty or students or anyone outside his inner circle.

-King has yet to produce a line-by-line budget and financial report. Even his hand picked Board, according to my sources, has granted all his requests with an incomplete financial picture at their disposal. Reporter Breena Kerr in an article published on December 26th in the Palo Alto DAILY POST stated that King has continued to refuse release a budget “…despite the fact that it was the subject of speculation and rumors of mismanagement.”

-Sources close to this reporter have said when King was hired two and a half years ago the school had a healthy surplus in in the budget and a million dollars in reserve. There is no accounting currently available that shows what happened to these funds.

-As already reported, King subsequently received a 100% no confidence vote from the faculty and students and an 80%+ no confidence vote from the staff.

-King locked the whole school down shortly before Christmas when a faculty, student and alumni meeting at the university was announced. Students studying on campus were forced to leave and abandon their studies.

-A subsequent protest outside the university resulted in King’s firing the school’s Founder, Robert Frager, Tracy Byars, the school’s Vice-President of Institutional Advancement and other key faculty and administrative members.

-King announced those fired could retrieve their personal possessions from their offices. Yet, those attempting to do so (that is, go to their offices and retrieve personal possessions there) have been escorted out of the building by security people, hired by King. He also has changed the school’s locks, thus blocking access to all but his chosen few and removed computers from many administrative and faculty offices including the computer in the libarary.

-The situation with the loss of so many key faculty and administrative personnel is now calling the school’s accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges into question. It is reported that an investigation by the Association has begun.

-In addition, the complaint against King has been filed with the California Department of Justice. From this, it is hoped a forensic audit will reveal where the school’s multimillion dollars surplus and reserve have gone and possible reveal other financial irregularities that occurred under King’s tenure.

Finally, the new president of Sofia, slated to begin his job on January 1st, 2014, appointed by the few remaining Board members, is Frank Ellsworth who sources have revealed has had a similar history of financial irregularities occur when he president of the Japan Society of New York where he was subsequently asked to leave.

Through this all, Frager Sensei has retained a positive attitude and as I wrote previously is blending as best possible with the unfolding drama. It is hope that his atemi’s, both those completed and those being planned, will re-instate him in his rightful role as the Founder of ITP and sweep out the remaining vestiges of King's tenure.

If you wish to contact me with your ITP/Sofia story, please use my email address: paulrest@paulrest.com

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