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For little-known Oikos University, an uncertain future after campus shooting

on April 12, 2012

Until April 2, when a shooter killed seven and injured three students and staff members at Oikos University, few in Oakland had even heard of the school. But the small institution, packed away between warehouses behind the Coliseum, has been part of the East Oakland community since 2004. Now, reports about the school’s future are mixed. University officials have signaled that they may begin holding classes off-campus, and state officials have raised concerns about Oikos students’ pass rate on a national nursing exam.

Oikos University was founded by pastor and current president Jonguin Kim. During a vigil held at nearby Allen Temple Baptist Church last Tuesday, nursing professor Soo Nam Sung said that Kim knew from experience what challenges immigrants face when coming to the United States. A Korean immigrant himself, it was his goal to create an environment where people could adjust to their adopted country, Sung said. This goal is reflected in the university’s name. Oikos is ancient Greek for “family” or “household.”

“Many were able to feel the gains. Immigrant life is vey difficult, but many were able to settle down in this strange land,” said Sung.

Although the institute’s orientation is strongly Korean—it is affiliated with the Praise God Korean Presbyterian Church in Oakland—its students and staff come from all over the world. This fact was reflected in the nationalities of the shooting’s casualties; the victims came from Korea, Nigeria, Nepal, Tibet, and the Philippines.

Initially, students at Oikos could only enroll in a few subjects. “It began with a Christian school. But later a music school and nursing school were added,” said Sung, who helped found the nursing school. Today students are trained to become a licensed practical nurse, or take a degree in theology, music, and Asian medicine.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the university has organized daily concerts to honor the victims. It has also set up a support foundation, which gathers funds to support the victims and their families. In addition to the service at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a second memorial service for the seven victims was held this Tuesday morning on the university’s campus. About a hundred people attended the service. Among them were Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and US Representative Barbara Lee.

After the memorial service, president Jongin Kim told a Bay Area News Group reporter that the university’s future is in question. He told the paper that Oikos is financially dependent on tuition fees, and that if significantly fewer students enroll, the effects could be detrimental. (Representatives from Oikos University could not be reached for comment by Oakland North.)

The same article cited university officials who said classes have been cancelled, and that once they resume they might temporarily be held at Patten University in Oakland and Unitek College in Fremont.

Dr. Gary Moncher, president of Patten University, said he was deeply saddened by the incident and is open to providing assistance. Patten University has had some exchanges with Oikos before, but Moncher said there have not been any formal talks at this point.

Navraj Bawa, Chief Operating Officer for Unitek College, said a meeting between the two universities will probably take place next week. “It seems both parties are interested,” he said. “At this point we just want to make sure students can continue their education.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), which has licensed Oikos’ nursing program, has voiced concerns with the university’s performance.  DCA spokesperson Russ Heimerich said that 41 percent of Oikos’ graduates passed a national nursing exam last year, while the state average is about 75 percent. Anything below 65 percent is deemed unacceptable by the DCA, Heimerich told Oakland North.

Oikos officials recently claimed to have raised this figure to 75 percent in last few months, but were unable to convince the DCA, according to Heimerich. “Four students took the test and three passed. But we look at the rates for the whole year,” he said.

The process of reviewing Oikos’ nursing exam statistics had already been set in motion several weeks before the shooting, Heimerich said. “Their pass rates of 2011 were significantly lower than 2010, and that already wasn’t good enough,” he said. “This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.”

In the next weeks university officials will have to provide the DCA with an analyses of this problem and present a plan improve students’ exam pass rates. If Oikos is unsuccessful, the school runs the risk of losing its accreditation. Heimerich said that the shooting, while tragic, does not fundamentally change the problem.

The university’s website states that Oikos has an overall operating license from the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. But aside from the nursing degree license, none of the other degrees are individually accredited.

Heimerich also confirmed an earlier report from the Bay Area News Group that a former university employee has filed a lawsuit against Oikos in Alameda Country Superior Court. The former employee claims that Oikos has failed to pay her about $75,000 in salary, in addition to failing to repay a $10,000 loan she made to the university.

However, Heimerich was unwilling make any further comments based on the lawsuit. “People sue each other for all kinds of reasons,” he said. “We’ll have to see where it goes.”

Susan Piper, Quan’s communications manager, said the mayor continues to follow the events closely as they unfold, but that, at this point, they only know what the media has reported. Representative Lee’s staff, too, said they were still learning about the situation.

The suspected shooter, former Oikos student One Goh, has been charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. He has not yet entered a plea.

1 Comment

  1. […] Read a rest of a story by Thomas Kleinveld during Oakland North. […]

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