[Sit back and feast on this cornucopia of “insider-trading” in Indiana Education. Is it just me or is there just an odd linguistic “reality” called forth in this partnership? “Indian(a)” and “Turkey” equals an (immigrant) Pilgrim conquest of the “free market” in education? Which group is instructing which in the use of a fish to fertilize corn?
Anyway, as the photo leading this investigative piece shows, Indiana loves to sell its kids on the education market. Hey, that’s what our economics is all about right? And why wouldn’t Islam love money too? Let’s come together in friendship and dialogue about it, shall we? Ed.]
Despite the FBI and U.S. Department of Labor and Education’s visa fraud investigation last year,* Gülen charter school leaders—free market followers of the wealthy, controversial Muslim, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania–are planning their newest invasion into Indiana, this time with help of Lt. Governor Becky Skillman.
The Indiana Math and Science Academy, Inc. (IMSA) currently has two Gülen charter schools (North and West) in Indianapolis. With well over a thousand students enrolled in these schools since 2007, Indiana taxpayers have paid out millions. This Indiana Gülen charter school branch has also received at least $240,000 from the Walton Family.
Since its inception, IMSA has applied for 23 visas for teachers and other individuals to come to Indianapolis to work. Only two have been denied.
The FBI investigation centers (or “centered,” since no one knows if the agency is still investigating) on teachers from Turkey who work in the U.S. Gülen charter schools sending portions of their taxpayer funded paychecks to the neo-liberal/socially conservative Gülen Movement. Seeking a “marketized Islam” (in the words of researcher Joshua Hendrick), the Gülen Movement operates schools in over a hundred countries, many for profit, is imperialistic in nature, male-dominated, and its U.S. charter schools have even drawn the concern of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.
Both Indiana Gülen schools are managed by Concept Schools, a Gülen-affiliated for-profit charter management company which runs 27 of the 135 Gülen schools nationwide. For the 2007-2008 period, tax records show that Concept Schools got $235, 114 (page 10, PDF box) for the Indiana schools. The following year, in which IMSA spent over $7,000 on travel (page 10, PDF box), Concept raked in $187,322 (page 8, PDF box). In 2010, the state awarded the Indiana Math and Science Academy-North with a $681,500 start-up grant (renewed in 2011) to “pay Concept a fee that is equal to 10% of the per capita tuition,” with the right to increase “the management fee 2 more percent” (page 46, PDF box).
Despite the fact that Ball State University, which sponsors IMSA, withdrew the group’s request for a school in Gary in 2008 after finding that the school had not hired teachers, enrolled students, or found an adequate building, the Gülenists are back, applying for new charter schools or taking out articles of incorporation for several across the state. In Fort Wayne, Serkan Ercan has started the Indiana Math and Science Academy-Fort Wayne, Inc. Ercan’s wife, Zeynep Isik-Ercan, is an early education professor at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, whose Ph.D. dissertation addresses the cultural identity boost children from Turkey experience while attending U.S. charter schools.
And just this month, Bilal Eksili, Gülen’s main Indiana man, applied for the Indiana Math and Science Academy-South, Inc. in Indianapolis. This school’s board has many of the same people associated with the other Gülen schools in Indiana.
Concept Schools’ vice president, Salim Ucan, is on the board of directors of the new proposed Gülen Indy school, the Indiana Math and Science Academy-South. His name also appeared on the Indiana Math and Science Academy-East application, when that school was proposed. Ucan was the founding principal at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, which spent over “$113,000 of taxpayers’ money in legal fees to fight the union” after the school fired a pregnant teacher who was interested in organizing teachers.
Another IMSA-South board member, Jeanette Kay Moody, has had a close and profitable relationship with IDOE, which fits the Gülen plan perfectly. In 2007, her Literacy for Life landed two gigs of $83,188 and $85, 056 to help the state with NCLB implementation (for one of the complete contracts, see this PDF ; for a list of these two contracts, see pages 50 and 51 in this PDF box). According to Moody’s vita, which can be found in several online documents, she has also contracted with IDOE over everything from Reading First, School Improvement Grants, and Comprehensive School Reform. She currently is also employed with Scholastic.
Moody has been with the Indiana Gülen charters schools from the beginning. Yet several new members have joined the crusade at IMSA-South, including Oznur Dundar, an instructor at ESL Language Centers’ Indy branch, Bulent Guler, a Turkish microeconomics professor at Indiana University, Virgil Madden (who is detailed below), and David W. Holt.
Oznur is a former board member of the Truebright Science Academy Charter School in Philadelphia, another Gülen school. Oznur gives a Fishers, Indiana, property address she and Murat Dundar purchased in 2009, so she is probably married to Murat. Murat (who often goes by M. Murat Dundar, Mehmet Murat Dundar, or Mehmet M. Dundar) is a former Los Alamos National Labs intern/science researcher and computer/information professor at IUPUI who is listed as an IMSA-Indianapolis, Inc. board member on 2008 tax returns.
Holt runs Conexus Indiana with Indiana Educational Roundtable member and consultant to the IDOE Carol D’Amico, a former George W. Bush-appointed National Board for Education Sciences board member. Conexus Indiana offers online degree programs to “prepare Hoosiers for manufacturing and logistics careers.”
Absent from the application is Tim Nation (leader of The Peace Learning Center in Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis, which uses Gülen-based curriculum, among other things, in their youth programs) who praises Fethullah Gülen in videos. Nation, who has also disappeared from the ISMA board, is the son of Fred Nation, a former press secretary for Evan Bayh who lost a bid for Terre Haute mayor last year to Republican Duke Bennett. Nation either wised up to the Gülen movement or he was removed from the board. Gülenists have shown a pattern of first recruiting Americans to their charter school boards, then replacing them with people from Turkey once the schools are well-embedded into the community.
SOME GÜLEN INDIANA HISTORY
Gülen’s charter school quest in the Hoosier state begins in 2001, when Vedat Akgun petitioned for the Indiana Science Academy. In 2002, along with current IMSA board member Kevin Miller, senior pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Akgun founded the Indiana Life Sciences Academy. Although applications were submitted, these schools did not, for some reason, made it to fruition.
Akgun, who holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering, is also a past founder of another branch of Gülen schools, Horizon schools, which is also run by Concept Schools in Ohio. In the past, Akgun ran Breeze, Inc., a for-profit charter school supporting company working with Concept Schools. At some point, Breeze became New Plan Learning, a non-profit which was, in 2010, still funneling money to Breeze. Records for New Plan Learning claim the group owned over $444,000 to Breeze (page 19, PDF box).
In 2007, when the school was paying rent to Breeze, management fees to Concept Schools, and loan repayments to Argun who had founded the school, auditors forced Horizon Science Academy to repay taxpayers’ money it was using for visas, stating that there “is no authority that allowed these payments to be made, nor does the nature of the expense relate to the Academy’s normal activities and operations” (page 27, PDF text; for a good summary of the audit, see here). Mary Taylor, the main auditor, also found that state money was used for legal fees to bring people from Turkey to America who were not even employed with the school. Many of the Gülenists involved in the Indiana movement are cited in the audit. The auditors write that:
During the period ended June 30, 2006, Horizon Science Academy-Dayton issued the following payments to Concept Schools, Inc. (the Academy’s Management Company), to reimburse the management company for expenditures made to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Robert A. Perkins & Associates, Karen D. Bradley, and Ant Travel for the purpose of assisting with the cost of Citizenship and Immigration applications and associated legal fees and travel in the amounts of:
Kazim Eldes - Concept Schools, Inc. Invoice #1534
Dependent Application Fee $ 195.00
Omer Yaliniz - Concept Schools, Inc. Invoice #1534
Legal Fees 600.00
Amanmyrat Gurdov – Concept Schools, Inc. Invoice #1614
Air Travel (Gurdov and his family) 1,597.75
Total Finding for Recovery $2,392.75
The Kazim Eldes mentioned in the audit was involved in IMSA’s founding and has served as Indiana Regional Vice-President of Concept Schools, IMSA’s management company. Eldes was a Turkey tour guide and officer for the Holy Dove Foundation. The Ant Travel noted in the Ohio audit was a now- defunct Chicago tour agency tied to the Gülen Movement and operated by Bilal Eksili and Lyndsey Eksili (often deceptively referred to as Eksila, NOT Eksili).
Bilal Eksili is, no doubt, the main Gülen mover and shaker in the Hoosier state. Bilal sits on the board of directors for the Indiana Math and Science Academy-North and West, and is also the chief incorporator of the new IMSA-South school.
Eksili directs the Indiana branch of the Niagara Foundation (the group operates in eight states) and Indiana’s Holy Dove Foundation, both peace and interfaith groups associated with the Gülen Movement and almost indistinguishable in nature. Interestingly, in June 2011, a few months after I first wrote about the Indiana Gülen story, the Holy Dove Foundation changed its name to the Turkish American Society of Indiana, Inc., deleted its website, and started another one, now passing itself off as a branch of the Turkish American Society of Chicago. To confuse people tracking the Muslim charter school movement, Gülen also now claims that the Holy Dove Foundation is called Niagara Foundation Indiana.
Oddly, besides giving luncheons and trips to Turkey, sitting on charter school boards, and hiring unpaid interns to do the business work of organizing meetings with Indiana government officials, religious leaders, and professors, it doesn’t appear that the Holy Dove/Turkish American Society of Indiana/Niagara Foundations do anything to promote diversity, love, peace, and friendship, as their mission statement suggests.
In 2009, just two years before the FBI would raid Gülen charter schools across the country, Eksili, ironically, was given the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, a national honor given to those who assist the FBI with their community partnerships across the country (see photo here). Eksili, in fact, gave an award to Michael Welch, Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis FBI division, sometime in 2009, as well, when school supt. Tony Bennett was in attendance (see photos 8 and 9 here).
With Eksili as tour guide, most of the IMSA board members have traveled to Turkey. Eksili also utilizes another of the nationwide Gülen group’s strategies. To win support of government officials nationwide, Gülenists invite high-ranking state leaders to dinners to speak and then lavish the officials with awards. Nowhere is this tactic more at work than in Indiana.
BILAL BUYS OUT BECKY SKILLMAN AND A DOZEN INDIANA LAWMAKERS
Virgil Madden, education policy and faith initiatives advisor to Indiana’s Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, has been recruited by Gülen to sit on the board of directors of the group’s newly proposed Indiana Math and Science Academy-South in Indy. Gülen and Eksili have been courting Madden (a former FBI Citizen Academy alumnus) and Skillman for some time now. In fact, in 2008, alongside Suellen Reed,*** then-Indiana supt. of public education and co-author of Play Dough Economics, a textbook to teach elementary kids the glories of free-market capitalism, Madden (who often lists himself as an alumnus of Holy Dove in Turkey, too) joined the Holy Dove Foundation at a Turkey-promoting event, alongside Judy O’Bannon, the wife of former Indiana governor Frank. Judy visited Turkey in 2008, during one of many trips organized by the Holy Dove Foundation, with a WFYI crew filming for her TV program, Community Building Community. Madden was there, too, with FBI’s Welch, John Aytekin (IMSA-North’s director), and Eksili at the Annual Inter-Cultural Friendship Receptions at the State House last April, posing for the Niagara Foundation cameras.
In 2010, Becky Skillman herself presented Bilal Eksili the “Governor’s Distinguished Service Award.” An inside source at the statehouse tells me that Skillman gave a presentation to legislators a few months back, trying to convince them to go on trips to Turkey with members behind the Gülen Movement in Indiana, and Mitch Daniels, in 2008, joined Indiana Pacers President Jim Morris, both speaking alongside Eksili at a Niagara Foundation dinner and friendship event.
Last April, in true corporate school reform hypocrisy, Eksili, former Indy mayor, Eli Lilly executive and Mind Trust leader, Bart Peterson, and current Indy mayor Greg Ballard, among others, appeared at Indianapolis Public School #22, near Martin Luther King Jr. Park, to remember the day 43 years ago that Robert Kennedy announced, in Indianapolis, the death of MLK. Peterson, in 2007, was given an award from the Holy Dove Foundation.
Gülenists are actively courting Indiana legislators that work in D.C. , too. In 2009, Dick Lugar (see photo), along with FBI’s Welch and IMSA’s Kent Millard, received a community leadership award from Eksili at a dinner sponsored by the Niagara Foundation. In 2008, Gülen began its courtship with Lugar, when Pierre Atlas, then the director of Lugar’s Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies, joined Eksili, George LaMaster, a Marian College communication professor and Presbyterian minister, and Rabbi Dennis Sasso,**** the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and theology adjunct professor at Marian, for the “Hoosiers and Interfaith Dialogue in Turkey” at the college known for its heavy support of the Indiana corporate school movement. By that point, Eksili and the Holy Dove Foundation had taken LaMaster, Atlas, and Sasso on three trips to Turkey.
During a meeting in Washington D.C. at the Turkic American Alliance’s second annual convention last November, when Fethullah Gülen’s name came up 13 different times, Andre Carson, Todd Young, and Dan Coats spoke highly of Turkish-American partnership, Coats going so far as to thank the Niagara Foundation for inviting him to the event. Rokita said: “On behalf of people, the great people of the state of Indiana, I thank you for your partnership, thank you for this leadership, the great charter schools that we have. They are run by the Turkish Community. We thank you” (page 91, PDF text). In September 2009, Rokita got so excited about the Holy Dove Foundation that he announced his speaking engagement at one of their luncheons on twitter and was blasted for it in the Journal Gazette.
But Gülenists also are funding Indiana’s Washington legislators.** In 2008, Numan Koca, owner of Elvan LLC in Noblesville, a Holy Dove Foundation member, and a past board member of IMSA-Indianapolis, Inc, gave Andre Carson’s campaign $3,000. Elvan Food is a candy company based in Turkey, which sells chocolate candy worldwide, including in the United States. Just last month, Mr. Eksili handed over $2,000 for Mike Pence’s campaign for Indiana governor. Eksili’s wife, Lyndsey, has funded Dan Burton ($1000), Todd Young ($250), and Pence ($1,000). In March 2010, Eksili and Concept Schools’ Kazim Eldes each gave Carson’s campaign for the U.S. Senate $1,000, as did Mehmet Dundar. Ali Kemal Durhan, who is also associated with the Indiana Math and Science Academy-South, gave $1,500 to Carson’s campaign on October 25, 2010. Durhan lists his address on campaign records as Columbus, Ohio, though forms filed with the Indiana government claim he lives in Indianapolis. Zehra Durhan, who lists the same exact Ohio address, gave Carson $1,500 and claims to be a teacher at one of the Indiana Math and Science Academies. Hasan Yerdelen (a former Holy Dove member and now treasurer for the American Turkish Association of Indiana) donated $2,000 to Carson’s 2010 quest, as well, $1,000 to Dan Burton, and $1.000 to Mike Pence. Carson is a Democrat and a Muslim. To say the least, Mike Pence is not, but his anti-women and conservative message fits right into the Gülen crusade.
Sometimes, Gülenists even want state laws passed recognizing their movement. As those tied to Gülen have done in Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, the Indiana Gülenists have even duped legislators into formally declaring their partnerships with Gülenists. In February 2011, Indiana Senators Brandt Hershman and Vi Simpson (both also at the Gulen state house event in April; see here and here) introduced a resolution “honoring the friendship between Indiana and Turkey.” After noting the positive agricultural arrangements Indiana has made with Turkey, the authors of Resolution 36 says this:
Whereas, The Niagara Foundation and the Turkish- American Federation of the Midwest are huge proponents of the Turkish-Hoosier Friendship Task Force;
Whereas, Within the last three years, 400 civic leaders, elected officials, and academics traveled to Turkey to strengthen the relationship between Hoosiers and Turkish people. This included creating partnerships between the civic foundations, encouraging Indiana businesses to create more business opportunities, and starting student exchange programs between the universities;
Whereas, It is in the best interest of the state of Indiana to further cultivate the relationship with Turkey and other Turkic nations; and
Whereas, The friendship between Indiana and the Republic of Turkey is important and merits recognition: Therefore,
Be it resolved by the Senate of the General Assembly
of the State of Indiana, the House of Representatives concurring:
SECTION 1. The Indiana General Assembly honors the friendship between Indiana and Turkey.
SECTION 2. The Secretary of the Senate is hereby directed to transmit a copy of this Resolution to Bilal Eksili.
Yes, that Bilal Eksili. That same Niagara Foundation, which gave Arne Duncan its Education Award in 2007. The resolution passed both the Senate and the House, upon first reading, and returned to the Senate on February 21, 2011. When Sharon Higgins first tipped me off to the fact that Gülen was using this tactic in other states, I emailed my Gülen Indiana article to Vi Simpson, but never heard back.
Despite TV news and newspaper reports in several cities, the mainstream media has remained silent or have downplayed Gülen’s influence on his followers running U.S. charter schools. Sharon Higgins’ detailed piece at the Washington Post (a longer version appears at Parents Across America) was widely discussed online, but so far the FBI and the Obama administration have said nothing. None of the 135 charter schools nationally connected with Gülen have been closed down as a result of the investigation.
Here in Indiana, Steve Hinnefeld and Karen Francisco have been the only journalists to have picked up on it, and the Indy FBI and Hoosier lawmakers cozy with those behind the Gülen movement have ignored it all.
Despite anti-Gülen visa laws being recently introduced in Oklahoma and Tennessee to curtail charter schools’ recruitment of foreign workers, and another investigation in Texas, Indiana lawmakers remain silent. With the government-Muslim partnerships springing up all over the state, it looks like Indiana will remain “Turkey-tripped” into the near future, supporting a Muslim money-making scheme invading the U.S. Likewise, as Gülen continues to infiltrate Turkey’s social, media, and political structure, more free-marketers from the U.S. are bound to profit there.
*I wish to thank Sharon Higgins for helping me with this article. Her website Charter School Scandals puts into perspective exactly what the corporate school movement is all about, and she is the authority on Gülen charter schools. Look for several Gülen links at the top of her website, Charter School Scandals. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s Karen Francisco, and the wonderful Karen Miller, also pointed out several things to me for this piece, and I thank them, too. Karen Francisco’s blog Learning Curve is always right-on. All mistakes in my essay, however, are solely my own.
***Madden and Reed are also both connected through corporate school reformer Randall Tobias, chairman emeritus of Eli Lilly and Company who has funded the Christel House Watanabe High School, operated by billionaire and Indiana Education Roundtable member, Christel DeHaan. Both DeHaan and Tobias are big funders of Mitch Daniels. Indiana Univesity’s Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence is named after Randall Tobias. Madden has been a fellow at the Tobias Center. Many fellows have ties to corporate school reform outfits, including the Lumina Foundation’s Holly Hart McKiernan, Eli Lilly’s Patricia Martin, and One America Financial Partner’s David Brentlinger. Reed is on the board of directors of the Tobias Center.
**** As a reporter from the Hurriyet Daily News noted when Wikileaks first released documents just over a year ago that showed U.S. diplomats were wary of the Gülen movement, several rabbis in other countries were not too eager to write letters in support of Fetullah Gülen being given exile in the United State. The reporter notes that:
A secret cable by Stuart Smith, U.S. deputy chief consul for Istanbul, mentions he was told by Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva that a recommendation letter was demanded from the rabbi for Gülen by some people. Haleva told him the letter was to change the image “among some units of the U.S. government” that Gülen is “a radical Islamist who hides a secret and sinister agenda with his moderate message.” These people were mentioned by daily Taraf as members of the Turkey Journalists and Writers Association.
Haleva was hesitant to write such a letter, or even a more limited one just to describe Gülen’s relations with the Jewish community. It is also mentioned that the Armenian patriarch received a similar demand and was likewise hesitant. However, the Vatican representative in Istanbul fully supported Gülen, according to the same cable.
photo credit: Niagara Foundation