Attorney General Maura Healey said Tuesday she is allowing the $75 million sale of Mount Ida College to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to move forward on narrow legal grounds because Mount Ida says it would have been forced to file for bankruptcy Wednesday if the sale did not proceed.
Healey determined that if the sale did not take place, the consequences to Mount Ida students, faculty, and staff would have been even worse than if it did. Her decision cleared the way for the transaction to be completed.
But the state's top law enforcement official joined a growing chorus of angry politicians, students, parents, and faculty who have decried the abrupt decision to shutter Mount Ida. In a scathing letter to the defunct college, Healey's office said it will review whether top Mount Ida officials violated their fiduciary duties, and announced it has secured several key protections for Mount Ida College, or MIC, students who would otherwise be left in difficult straits.
"We are deeply disappointed by MIC's decision to close its doors without a school closing plan and without appropriate notice to students, faculty, staff, and regulators," two officials from Healey's office wrote to the college. "Your treatment of your own students is particularly upsetting and extremely unfair to them."
Mount Ida officials did respond to a request for comment.
UMass had agreed to allow all Mount Ida students in good academic standing to transfer automatically to UMass Dartmouth. But that UMass campus does not have analogous programs for every course of study offered at Mount Ida.
Healey's office said it has secured help for some of the students left in the lurch so they can complete their degrees on time and without added expense.
UMass Amherst is now set to continue Mount Ida's veterinary technology programs on the Mount Ida campus in Newton to allow students to earn the degrees they have already begun.
And students who would have entered the Mount Ida dental hygiene program are poised to be able to do their coursework at Regis College. Both transitions will require further regulatory approvals before being finalized.
Jeff Cournoyer, a spokesman for the UMass system, underscored the university's efforts to help students left in limbo.
"As of last accounting, 608 or nearly half of Mount Ida students have applied to a UMass campus," he said in an e-mail. "UMass is working to provide solutions for and assist as many Mount Ida students — displaced as a result of MIC closing and through no fault of their own — as we possibly can. All four undergraduate campuses have committed to maximizing credit transfer and will do everything possible to keep Mount Ida students on track for 'on time' graduation."
State charity law requires the attorney general's office to make sure that nonprofits selling off their assets are getting fair value.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Green and Arwen Thoman, who directs Healey's student loan assistance unit, said they determined that the sale — $75 million from UMass Amherst and an unnamed creditor forgiving $11.5 million on the condition the sale goes through — met that narrow metric and does not need court approval to go through.
However, they said, the office's review of Mount Ida is not complete.
"After the completion of the transaction we will further review this disorderly and harmful closure to consider whether or not MIC's senior administrators and its Board of Trustees . . . violated their fiduciary duties in addressing MIC's financial condition and in carrying out its educational mission," they wrote.
UMass Amherst and Mount Ida said in April that they had come to an agreement in principle for UMass to acquire Mount Ida's 74-acre Newton campus and for students to have a path to finish their degrees.
That followed an earlier effort by Mount Ida to merge with Lasell College that fell through.
The last class of Mount Ida College students graduated Saturday in a ceremony that did not include college president Barry Brown and the board of trustees at students' request.
Brown was invited to testify at a state legislative oversight hearing Wednesday, but he is not expected to attend.
Healey, often reserved in commenting on the legal matters that come before her office for review, released a statement full of dismay on the matter.
"We are extremely disappointed in the way Mount Ida handled this closure. Hundreds of students have had their education and future plans put in jeopardy, and many dedicated faculty and staff have lost their jobs," the attorney general said.
"Over the past few weeks, we have worked closely with students, parents, UMass campuses, and other schools to ensure that Mount Ida students have the best possible options to pursue and complete their degrees on time. We will continue to review whether Mount Ida's Board of Trustees and senior administrators violated their fiduciary duties in addressing the college's financial condition and carrying out its educational mission."
Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.