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DiUlus Institute, 2003What follows is the chronological history of the creation and development of the DiUlus Institute. Make no mistake, visioning and then developing a university of this magnitude is fraught with peaks and valleys and as you will see, even its uniformed detractors. Moving rapidly in its development for three years, it hit a stumbling block, and what hindsight tells us, should never have occurred in the first place, had the principal organizers been more vigilant and not quite so naive'. However, as one of the organizing faculty noted, "when one door closes another opens" and the developers kept going to finalize a design that truly is unique; one that demonstrates selfless dedication and commitment to higher education by those who have dedicated their time, talent and treasure to see the Institute realize its lofty goals.  

The DiUlus Institute is formed in the Spring of 2003 by practicing university faculty. It is conceived as an online experimental university without walls. Their idea was simple enough -- create an online university laboratory, something that was non existent in the world of online higher education, and become an institution that could, in fact, contribute to the improved expansion of online learning worldwide. It was determined from the start that it would be an exemplary ongoing developer for other online education providers on a global scale. This was an ambitious and unheard of undertaking.

The higher education laboratory combined in its mix practicing online faculty, student advisors who had experienced online learning and 'outside-the-box' administrators desiring to co-develop new and improved online pedagogy, technology and methodology for higher education. The school was easy enough to create as its benefactor was Global Academy Online, Inc. Known simply as the Academy, it is a noted online university builder that was itself over four years in development prior to sponsoring the university.  The Academy has since grown to become the premier provider of online private label curriculum and instruction to colleges and universities on four continents.

Brainstorming the idea was one thing for creative minds, but putting it into practice was quite another.

The Academy noted from the outset that all its efforts were and are invisible to the public when providing services confidentially to colleges and universities. All Academy programs and services contributed to any partner university including the new university are private labeled to a host including their virtual platforms to college curriculum and instruction. 

 It is, in this context, how the Institute was able to develop its online curriculum, faculty and delivery systems online so quickly. The Academy, under a life-long contract, would provide the DiUlus Institute what it needed, when it needed it. This left University volunteers with the tasks of handling licensing, accreditation, authorizations, public relations, and perception issues among the public, both nationally and internationally. The experimental university laboratory  thus became a reality.

By mid year 2004, it was decided that, in addition to all content and curriculum provided the developing University, the student body should be limited in size. With few exceptions, the experimental school was to be targeted to international students only and to the nations in most need. The number of students was to be strictly limited to 150. This subsequently would be adjusted to include three specific niches among US citizens. They would include, senior citizens, native Americans, and soldiers and sailors in harms way.

Many other issues were also on the table for clarification. One of the most important was accreditation and the public perception of what that means. Faculty spent much time debating if the University needed accreditation recognition since there are no requirement in the USA that a university be accredited unless there was a need for students to qualify for government sponsored financial aid. A determination was made that accreditation should be sought regardless of whether or not there is a requirement.  A new system of institutional student validation was at the same time being developed by the University's sponsor. It is known as the TAP System, a patent pending internal institutional driven self accreditation system driven by an institutions faculty.

Under the TAP system, faculty determine each students results with their own verification procedures for student validation on the transcripts of those attending the University. This was adopted and is to be engaged by faculty from the outset of a student’s matriculation in their classes and across the curriculum.

Two items of importance remained in 2004. What would be the name of the experimental college and where should it be domiciled?  The name eventually chosen by faculty was in honor of an Italian immigrant who came to America in the 1890’s. He was a man who personified the immigrants dreams of success. He believed education was the passport to that American dream. His name was Alfonso Pasquale DeIuliis. It was written down as Diulus by well meaning government officials at Ellis Island, New York.  He was the paternal grandfather of Dr. Fred DiUlus, the CEO of the institutional academic and corporate sponsor of this fledgling University. The third generation Italian American grandson stepped out as the inspiration behind the idea of the experimental venue of a tuition free online university.

The handful of organizing faculty from Global Academy Online thought the name unusual and most appropriate. They foresaw that the DiUlus school would clearly demonstrate  that it was made up of real people with real history behind them.  Naming the school after this quintessential American success story seemed to the group very much in order. The school, like its name sake would provide the fuel for the light of the lamp of knowledge and with it, offer no limits to what one could do or accomplish.

During 2005, The university became an experimental incubator for analysis of learner management platform applications associated with the delivery of online learning. Several competing systems were considered including the ones available from outside vendors and the sponsors own Powered by Global division; a system based on the open source programming provided by MOODLE. 

The university board of trustees chose to be supported by the sponsors own division Powered By Global that with its patent pending Transparent Paradigm Technology bridging of the open source code of MOODLE with the needs of the university, the new school would possess a cutting edge learner management system. MOODLE had acquired thousands of individual and institutional clients worldwide by the end of 2005 and it was only a couple of years old. As an experimental university, the faculty suggested that it was only appropriate that the school be in on the latest developments of course and learner management delivery systems.

The University also considered other methods of delivering classes to students such as real time and streaming video teaching applications outside of the MOODLE platform. From 2005 through 2008, the University experimented with different applications and how they could be interwoven. The final decision determining other add-ons beside MOODLE would not arrive until 2008. The result makes the DiUlus Institute system one of a kind.

The year 2004 also saw the adaptation of various library resources that could be drawn on by students from the far reaches of the globe. A portal on the website of the University was created that would offer students unrestricted access at anytime, night or day, 24/7 from anywhere they could hook into the Internet. Other virtual libraries provided by major universities were added. The University undertakes to become a sponsor of an international virtual library project that expects to add 100,000 volumes to the university's library.

By mid year, various alternative venues were also considered for the registration and accreditation of the University. This included registering and developing accreditation through CONESUP,  the recognized accrediting bodies in Central and South American countries. Approval however, had to be secured through a host nation's Ministry of Education as well as the authority to operate the Institute in a host nation as a non-profit. Four potential host countries were identified. None would be chosen until the spring of 2009. And, this came only after an exhaustive and extensive investigation that included personal visits by faculty and volunteer staff to determine the inherent value and viability of each liaison.

In the meantime, the school was also being pursued throughout 2005 by agencies that wanted the experimental school to be associated with them. This included those agencies that wanted to accredit the college because of the breakthrough work it was undertaking  to maintain and offer  tuition free higher education.

This year also showed the potential quid pro quo for faculty that donated their services to the school. Faculty representing the school created a minor historical sensation when they published a paper on market economics and presented it on behalf of the new University in Cuba at the University of Havana’s 14th annual Radical Economics and Social Science Conference. It brought a great deal of attention to the Institute, especially because it was offering free tuition to those who were permitted to matriculate. The topic of the paper dealt with International Entrepreneurship, a fitting expose’ sponsored by an “entrepreneurial endeavor”.  It was the first scholarly work presented on market economics in Cuba in 45 years.

In May, the university’s newly appointed dean of faculty, enthusiastic to see the University bloom, prematurely announced that the new school would be opened in June. Inside Higher Education, an online BLOG designed to find jobs for faculty and one that derives its revenue from traditionalist schools and school related advertisers, picked up on the story. Over the course of two days, a representative of the BLOG, who calls himself on his own BLOG, 'Big Head', had several discussions with founders.

Rather than concentrating on the breakthrough technology adopted by the new school and the fact that it was the first tuition free online school of higher education in the world where selected and highly skilled doctoral faculty was contributing their time, treasure, and talent to teaching of future classes, the BLOG chose to concentrate on something totally irrelevant-- an April 2006 honorary accreditation award from the Principality of Seborga and its authorizing agency the Cistercian Religious Order, founded there in the 11th century. Seborga itself is a self proclaimed principality in Italy. An array of critics claimed that the principality and the Cistercian accreditation authority were a myth. 

The significance to the evolving school was that being named after an Italian American who had in fact been born and raised not far from the principality and its sister principality of Monaco, it seemed, at the time, a suitable honor. To an unsuspecting  faculty, it seemed a perfect tie-in. The principality offered their recognition to the new school and the board accepted, realizing it was of little peer value. Rather, they looked upon it as recognition of the schools existence and historical roots.

Little did the volunteer faculty, Provost, or Chancellor know that Inside Higher Education had been on a witch hunt for  less than credible universities who had previously been allegedly accredited by this Seborgan Principality and religious order. So-called experts had a field day attacking the premise that the Institute's new school was accredited. Inside Higher Education's reporter put together what most academics familiar with the development of the school as an extremely biased and libelous account. Jumping on the fact that the institution had a URL in the Antarctica, BLOG respondents attempted to make it another issue as if this one URL made any difference in how the school should be viewed. Another critic took

Considering that no less than Stanford University, one of the top universities in the world, also has a similar URL extension, founders and faculty considered the article nothing more than a blatant and caustic attack to besmirch its reputation before it even opened. And to add insult to injury, one zealous critic took exception to the website stock photo's while overlooking the fact that most universities use them.

Taken aback by this vicious and unprovoked attack, many came to its defense. The University it was noted, over and over, was not, as yet, even open. It charged no tuition and therefore took no money for anything that related to study at the university. More importantly it had no students while the article falsely led its readers to believe it had. And finally, it was clearly evident that not one of the critics cared enough to look for themselves what the school was all about yet allowed themselves to be lead by the reporters agenda. The website pages have always clearly detailed the who, what, where, why, and how of the school. It is, and continues to the present, to be an open book. The website, now consisting of over 80 pages, explains the whole picture of the school in detail. Apparently none of the detractors ever bothered to read it.

Follow up comments by some of those hopping on the band wagon of criticism never considered the university existed IN ORGANIZATION.

The story however, had backlash consequences for the volunteers who had prematurely put the fledgling university in harms way. The Dean of the school who encouraged the story was forced to resign. The individuals who had recommended accepting the accreditation from Seborga were dismissed. When the Seborgan authorities and the Principality's government and Cistercian religious representatives refused to address the egregious claims, the school's sponsoring organization immediately terminated the relationship for the safety and preservation of the integrity of the Institute. 

From June 15, 2006, the University declared itself a totally non-accredited institution of higher learning. It continued to organize as such. The school would remain in organization until such time as it satisfied its Board of Trustees that the public perception did not question the authority or veracity of the school's higher learning objectives.

The University sponsor suggests to the Board that it should shorten its name so as not to be confused with another university that also has the words Institute and University in its official name. The Board agreed and the name is shortened to the DiUlus Institute with the tag line,  "experimental higher education". The Institute undertakes to address a newly internalized  Quality Assurance program that culminates a year later in a series of measurements to assure programs and actions by the University measure up to the highest standards of academic rigor.

The DiUlus Scholar program is redefined to be the capstone of the Quality Assurance undertaken by the University. Redefined are admission standards and how DiUlus Scholars are to be matriculated, once admitted. This, the faculty believes, would lead to learners being recognized as exceptional scholars in their home country and for the contribution of their work to the greater higher education academic community. The faculty chooses to establish as policy one that assures that there are no quotas for any one country or favoritism toward any one student except by merit and without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or lifestyle choices. Applications are to be considered on a first come, first serve, basis.

The sponsor begins to invite other schools anxious to understand how a MOODLE based system, customized for them and like the one designed for the Institute, might work. The Institute has designed into the system the latest in 2.0 technology that actually can be applied throughout three different levels of online delivery. These phases include the use of online support for on ground classes, the hybrid use of online and in the classroom work, and lastly the exclusive use of online capabilities to do every level of learning and study.  

Throughout the remaining months of 2007, several new programs are considered and adopted  by the Institute including virtual reality training utilizing advanced FX Technology applications. This includes several special training programs bringing the total package of certificate based programs from five different areas. They are to include training in Ethics, Entrepreneurship, Special Effects, 3D Animation, Virtual Reality and Film Editing.

The Board of Trustees, in a narrow decision, limits scholastic offerings to graduate degree programs and the new 2007 adopted specialized training programs. Demand for undergraduate and graduate programs exceeds the current student cap of 150 tuition free DiUlus Scholars by a wide margin. Opening the school to undergraduate students, the board determines, will be dependent on future private funding above and beyond the current commitment of the original sponsor, Global Academy Online, Inc.  

The Board also undertakes to request transfer  of day to day  management from the sponsor of the school to  CEFE, the Center for Ethics in Free Enterprise.  CEFE, a twelve-year-old veteran non-profit division of Global Academy Online, Inc., already manages two other online education enterprises. They are experienced in managing non profit institutions. CEFE is well suited for this task. 

The E-Education Trust, (eTrust), a credential assessment and validation services, also a division of Global Academy Online, Inc.,is engaged by the Institute to provide screening of all student applicants. The eTrust is to provide a streamlined, efficient, application process and assure the validity of all student documents submitted in support of an applicants potential DiUlus Scholar appointment.

During the past four years, the Institute has sought to solidify a ground presence, primarily in New Mexico. This year, however, the Board, aware of the limited number of US nationals that would be admitted from the three qualified US citizen based groups, sought to find a venue that would be more properly disposed to an international online university with the unique characteristics of the Institute. Currently two dozen countries are being considered as the future home of the Institute. A certain amount of sentiment exists to sustain the school inside the USA as it was created principally by American academics who have begun in earnest to complete the process of licensing in the Southwest. Up until now, this process has not been necessary as the Institute has admitted no students, granted no degrees, or diplomas, nor trained any individuals in the United States or elsewhere.

The purpose of the selection of an on-ground venue in the future is one where, it was hoped, the beautiful Sacramento Mountains of the southwestern United States can be used as a backdrop for special academic retreats and education forums open to the public. International licensing and articulation agreements are simultaneously being sought with organizations and governments representatives on four continents that continues on as an uninterrupted process.

In the fall of 2008, private agencies of the Department of Education are evaluated and considered for application for affiliation and eventual accreditation. Although students will never need to apply for Federal Financial Aid as DiUlus Scholars, one of the main reasons for obtaining such accreditation is to provide more ease of access to job venues that may be closed to graduates otherwise. 

At last, this is the year the first ten DiUlus Scholars are scheduled for admission to the Institute. Judging by all indications, this first class will be possessed of extraordinary talent and dedication and to use their education as true servant leaders in the future.

Early in the year, the DiUlus Institute is overlooked when a story appears in the New York Times promoting the advent of what they termed the first online university that will offer free tuition. The Times story was not pointing to the DiUlus Institute but to another school that is in the idea stage of development and promoted by an opportunist with apparent connections or a far more effective PR capability than the Institute. The Times did not contact the Institute nor evidently do a basic Google, Yahoo, or MSN search for.any tuition free universities. 

The DiUlus Institute is the first committed tuition free online university in the world and perhaps the last singular "Without Walls Experimental University".

The location of a permanent on-ground location is narrowed to seven sites. They include San Juan, Costa Rica, Cape Town, South Africa, Berne, Switzerland, Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and Guayaquil,Ecuador.

To be continued...

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