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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Trump U; I was there; students should get to complain if they were mistreated, but they should get to do that at every school

The attacks on Trump University are starting to bother me. I was the chief learning officer of Trump University from its inception until 2007. At that point, Mr. Trump decided to stop building the online learn by doing courses that I was hired to do and do real estate seminars instead. He didn’t need me for that.

Here is my problem. I don’t know if those seminars were shady or not. I wasn’t there and I wasn’t consulted. However, some of the attacks and discussions and lawsuits are about whether this was a state sanctioned university. We all make the assumption that the government should determine if you can call yourself a university, and if you can grant degrees.

A colleague (a faculty member at a top university) wrote to me today and commented:

it will set a bad precedent that students can sue private universities for tuition claiming bad education!”

Will it?  Universities sanctioned by the state and lauded by official rankings grant degrees to students who simply amass sufficient credits which they do by attending lectures and passing multiple choice tests. Are these students getting a reasonable education?  MY colleague s right to worry about lawsuits from unhappy students, but possibly we should all be unhappy about the current state of university education.

At the launch of Trump U, I was quoted as saying:

 "The problem with school is that school is a little academic, a little theoretical, not necessarily practical," Schank said. "It doesn't necessarily serve the general public, who may just want to know how to do something."

Some members of the press printed only the first phrase of that and made fun of me saying that “school is a little academic.”  The defenders of the system never concern themselves with the idea that everyone must go to college simply assumes that colleges know what they are doing and that what they are doing is meant to benefit students in a way they might care about, like preparing them for employment. Bart Giamatti (at the time he was my boss and the President of Yale) once said to me “we don’t do training Roger.” Maybe it is time to re-think that idea.

I don’t know if Trump U was fraudulent in some way but I can tell you that people keep calling me to discuss this. The press asks me about the “unofficial” courses and I respond asking what is so good about the official courses. (Yale Computer Science students recently protested that their education wasn’t practical enough and that Google wouldn’t hire them. They were right to complain. It wouldn’t have happened on my watch.)

The important issue to me (apart from Trump himself which of course is the real issue) is why it is not possible to simply launch a different kind of school, (maybe one that does not teach algebra or one that concentrates on job skills) without the government telling you what you  are doing is ok.

The government is hardly the expert on education, and neither I think are faculty members whose interests are typically research.  Students should be able to complain if the Yale education they got disppointed them in some way.  As a professor at Yale for 15 years I can tell you that Yale often disappointed its students. Many of them found their way into my office eventually to complain about what they were being taught.  For example, why are psychology students learning to run experiments when they have no intention of being researchers and simply want to know what is wrong with them or their family?

Trump U was trying to do something different (at least at the beginning while I was there.) If it did something wrong after I was told to stop building online learn by doing courses, then people have a right to criticize it. But the state should stay out of the business of sanctioning courses and schools.   All the state does is
reinforce old ideas and make change impossible.

1 comment:

laserblue said...

"The problem with school is that school is a little academic, a little theoretical, not necessarily practical," Schank said. "It doesn't necessarily serve the general public, who may just want to know how to do something."

I agree with you. I found an interesting statement made by Semmy Purewal in the preface of his book, Learning Web App Development". Mr. Purewal stated that he obtained his degree in Computer Science but found he was completely unprepared to build web apps as a professional soon after. The University was not in sync with the software industry.