When Kansas City, Mo., was experiencing a cold snap with temperatures reaching below -18 C earlier this month, Brian Carroll knew there was a student on his campus that needed someplace warm to stay.
Carroll, who served as the president of Vatterott College’s Kansas City campus for the last three years, said he was recently fired for allowing a homeless student to sleep in the library for one night when an ice storm made its way through the city.
“I made a judgment between letting him spend the night thinking I may be saving his life or risking the corporate assets,” Carroll told Global News. “I knew the guy (through my retention officer) that he was going to do what he said he was going to do so I took a chance – and I lost my job over it.”
On Jan. 6, the school had shut down early due to the storm but Carroll found the student still on campus. When Carroll asked where he was staying that night, he said he would be sleeping in the woods with a sleeping bag and nothing else. Drawing on his background as former marine, Carroll said he immediately began to think on the spot about how to help the student.
The student also suffers from schizophrenia and admitted to Carroll that he hadn’t refilled his prescription because he couldn’t afford the $6 deductible. Carroll gave him a $10 bill.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to let you spend the night here,’” Carroll told Global News. “‘The building’s going to lose all its heating but there are heaters built into a fireplace in the library. I want you stay there. At 9 a.m. when everybody starts to come in, you need to take the $10, get on the bus and go down and get your medications.’ And he did exactly what he said he would do.”
“Nothing happened, there was no damage to the facility and he was back in class on Monday.”
That Monday, Carroll said he was confronted by administration officials; they noticed from security footage that the student had stayed in the library overnight.
“Next thing you know, the vice-president of HR is standing in my doorway telling me to come back with her and there was the corporate attorney asking me questions,” said Carroll. “Finally the HR person said, ‘We’re going to have to let you go.’”
Taken aback, Carroll said he pleaded with them, asking if they could just reprimand him after an investigation into the incident. He said the administration admitted that they couldn’t be sure if anything happened but that they had closed the case.
“They literally walked me out. They helped me pack up my materials and told me, ‘Don’t come back to this campus.’”
Which of Vatterott College’s policies was broken by Carroll remains unclear. Global News’ questions sent to the school’s administration to clarify what rules were breached were not returned.
The Kansas City Star reported that the college’s regional vice-president confirmed that Carroll was no longer employed by the company (calling the former president’s actions a “bad decision”) but would not elaborate citing privacy issues regarding personnel.
Looking back, Carroll said he probably would have booked a hotel room for the student, but believes he would still have been fired because he would have had to drive the student to the hotel – something Vatterott College says is also not allowed.
But moving forward, Carroll is back home with his family in southern California and says he has been inspired by the messages he’s received from people who said they were also homeless while attending school and felt they didn’t have the support they needed.
“We’re thinking that we need to do something to help homeless students,” he said. “And get schools to perhaps sign on assuring that a student has a place to be before they start school. We need to reach and help more of the homeless.”