You may think this article is a poorly timed post-election satire, but sadly it’s not. There really is such a thing as ‘Trump University.’
Or, at least, there was. Back before he became supreme overlord of the USA, Mr Trump owned 93% of a for-profit education company named after himself in New York City which ran a real estate training programme between 2005 and 2010.
Despite the name, it wasn’t a university at all. Trump University, which was renamed the ‘Trump Entrepreneur Initiative’ shortly before its demise in 2010, was to universities what Dr Gillian McKeith is to medicine: totally fake. Unsurprisingly, it has got in all sorts of legal trouble for using the title ‘university’ since it was not accredited as a university or college, did not grant degrees, give college credit, or even grade its students.
In terms of the actual course content, it was a pricey piece of work. Trump claimed in his advertisements for the education programme that, ‘I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you’, well, he’d have a go, as long as they paid him.
After the introductory seminar, students could sign up for seminars ranging in price from $1495 to the $35,000 ‘Gold Elite’ program. Much like the equally American and sinister institution of Scientology, the more you paid, the more you could expect to learn. Or not, as the case might be.
Despite more than 7600 tickets being sold to customers attending these courses, and Trump claiming that 98% of students gave his program positive reviews, according to the New York Times, former students allege that they were pressured into giving good reviews in order to get their graduation certificates.
In addition, despite claiming that he ‘hand-picked’ all of the instructors for the course, Trump later admitted that this was not the case. As a final kick in the teeth, the students didn’t even get to spend any time with Trump, having to take pictures with a life-sized photograph of him instead, due to his lack of interest in attending the classes.
Since 2010, there have been three lawsuits filed against Trump University which alleged that the ‘University’ conducted itself using illegal business practices. In addition, Trump University was accused of engaging in misleading marketing practices and aggressive sales techniques to defraud its students.
To give you a fuller picture of the fraudulent institution Mr Trump managed, here’s a statement from Ronald Schnackenberg, a former salesman who worked at Trump University. Schnackenberg gave his affidavit (an official written statement) to be used as evidence in one of the lawsuits against Trump. As the New Yorker reports, Schnackenberg stated that:
‘While Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could.
He concludes, ‘Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.’
Since becoming president and the increased press interest in the lawsuits, Trump has settled all of these lawsuits for $25 million: peanuts for a man who Forbes estimates is worth around $3.7 billion.
With this in mind, I can’t help thinking that, although Trump has since settled his lawsuits, his exploitative, fraudulent and downright cynical ‘University’ leaves the President-Elect yet another unpleasant legacy behind him.