For the last two years I have been pounding on Imam Fethullah Gulen’s web of organizations and his charter schools empire in the US. For years I have been marveling about the consistent media blackout on the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen’s past and present nefarious activities and highly suspicious partnerships with various US government agencies and elected officials. And of course for almost two years I have been writing and discussing Gulen with you over here at Boiling Frogs Post. Now the New York Times appears to be catching up; at least with a fraction of this notorious Imam’s multi billion dollar network of organizations and businesses. Yesterday, the Times ran a fairly detailed and long exposé on Gulen’s dubious and highly secretive penetration of US school systems via his rapidly growing charter school operations; let’s start with the attention grabbing intro:
TDM Contracting was only a month old when it won its first job, an $8.2 million contract to build the Harmony School of Innovation, a publicly financed charter school that opened last fall in San Antonio. It was one of six big charter school contracts TDM and another upstart company have shared since January 2009, a total of $50 million in construction business. Other companies scrambling for work in a poor economy wondered: How had they qualified for such big jobs so fast?
The secret lay in the meteoric rise and financial clout of the Cosmos Foundation, a charter school operator founded a decade ago by a group of professors and businessmen from Turkey. Operating under the name Harmony Schools, Cosmos has moved quickly to become the largest charter school operator in Texas, with 33 schools receiving more than $100 million a year in taxpayer funds.
Some of the schools’ operators and founders, and many of their suppliers, are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam whose devotees have built a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name. Gulen followers have been involved in starting similar schools around the country — there are about 120 in all, mostly in urban centers in 25 states, one of the largest collections of charter schools in America.
And this is what the paper says it is attempting to examine:
But an examination by The New York Times of the Harmony Schools in Texas casts light on a different area: the way they spend public money. And it raises questions about whether, ultimately, the schools are using taxpayer dollars to benefit the Gulen movement — by giving business to Gulen followers, or through financial arrangements with local foundations that promote Gulen teachings and Turkish culture.
I suggest you visit the site and read the entire article. It is definitely worth reading. You may also want to read a few select pieces from BFP on Gulen:
And here are some appetite inducing excerpts from the Times’ article [All Emphasis Mine]:
Records show that virtually all recent construction and renovation work has been done by Turkish-owned contractors. Several established local companies said they had lost out even after bidding several hundred thousand dollars lower.
In April, however, the agency notified Harmony of an unreleased preliminary audit questioning more than $540,000 in inadequately documented expenses, the vast majority involving federal grant money. Neither the agency nor Harmony would disclose details of the findings.
Today the United States has more Gulen-inspired schools than any country but Turkey, according to a presentation by Joshua Hendrick, a professor at Loyola University Maryland whose 2009 dissertation explored the movement. In Texas, Harmony now educates more than 16,000 children. Eight schools have opened in the last year alone.
Last year, local contractors questioned the fairness of bidding on two Harmony renovation jobs in the Austin area. On one job, in the suburb of Pflugerville, the low bidder, at $1.17 million, was a well-known Texas company, Harvey-Cleary. The job went to Atlas Texas Construction and Trading, even though its bid was several hundred thousand dollars higher. Atlas, with offices in Texas and Turkey, shows up on a list of Gulen-affiliated companies in a 2006 cable from the American Consul General in Istanbul, Deborah K. Jones, that was released by WikiLeaks.
Dr. Tarim, who came from Turkey and studied aquatic ecology at Texas A&M, objects to common references to the schools as Turkish. Still, even if they are American charter schools first and foremost, the schools do have an undeniable Turkish flavor.
Harmony advertises that its teachers “are recruited from around the world,” but most of its foreign teachers are Turkish men, and all but a handful of the 33 principals are men from Turkey. In addition to the standard foreign languages, the schools offer instruction in Turkish. They encourage students and teachers, even parents, to join subsidized trips to Turkey.
Here comes an emphasis on Gulenists’ denial and secrecy game:
“I’m not a follower of anybody,” Dr. Tarim said in an interview. Records show, however, that when applying to the State of Texas to form Harmony schools, he was a consultant to Virginia International University in Fairfax, one of the private universities that lawyers for Mr. Gulen say were originally inspired by his teachings.
At a forum on the schools last December in Houston, Dr. Hendrick, the Maryland professor, argued that such denials had only deepened the ambiguity and helped fuel suspicion. “Why do leaders deny affiliation when affiliation is clear?” he asked.
And this one on thousands of Turkish teachers imported here:
American consular employees reviewing visas have questioned the credentials of some teachers as they sought to enter the country. “Most applicants had no prior teaching experience, and the schools were listed as related to” Mr. Gulen, a consular employee wrote in a 2009 cable. It did not say which schools had hired the teachers. Some with dubious credentials were denied visas.
In February, a Chicago charter school union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers complained to the federal Department of Labor, alleging that the Chicago Math and Science Academy and Concept Schools, a group that operates 25 schools in the Midwest, had abused the visa system by “routinely assigning these teachers duties or class load that seemingly do not take into account the laws governing H1-B visa holders.”
The Labor Department had already been investigating at least one Concept school.
Here is one example out of many methods they use to pocket elected officials:
One group, the Raindrop Foundation, helped pay for State Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s travel to Istanbul last year, according to a recent campaign report. In January, she co-sponsored a Senate resolution commending Mr. Gulen for “his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding.”
In an interview, Ms. Van de Putte described the trip as a working visit.