The New York State Education Department is reviewing the Clinton Global Initiative University’s decision to use the term “university” in its name without explicit permission.
The review comes in response to inquiries made by The Daily Beast.
For the first time in American history, the (likely) Republican and Democratic nominees for president are also both, bizarrely, associated with eponymous entities that use or used the term university in their titles but were never, in fact, universities.
Donald Trump once operated Trump University, later renamed the Trump Entrepreneurship Initiative (but more on that later) while Hillary and Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative (itself a faction of the Clinton Foundation) continues to host a lesser-known program they call the Clinton Global Initiative University, or CGI U.
Unlike Trump University, there is no CGI U curriculum, no fees, and no promise that attendees will attain a life of tremendous wealth and gaudy boardrooms where they can fire people for fun.
But very much like Trump University, CGI U was never a school in any traditional sense.
There is no syllabus, no classes, no papers, no grades and, in the end, no degree or cap and gown. But both organizations, at one time, called themselves “universities.”
According to New York state education law, “No individual, association, co-partnership or corporation not holding university, college or other degree conferring powers by special charter from the legislature of this state or form of regents” is permitted to call itself a “university” or “college” without consent.
A spokesperson for the New York State Education Department did not immediately respond when asked about the timeframe of the review.
Clinton Global Initiative University was founded by the former president in 2007 not as a separate company, but as an annual seminar hosted by CGI.
CGI U’s stated goal, according to information provided to The Daily Beast by the Clinton Foundation, is, vaguely, “to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. ”
They do this via an annual meeting, usually attended by Chelsea and Bill. This year’s was in April at UC Berkeley.
The Clinton Foundation is quick to highlight a long list of boldfaced names that have addressed the students: Madeleine Albright, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Pharrell Williams, Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and so on.
Video footage of past meetings show a conference that feels part Scientology and part TED Talk.
“Students at CGI U don’t just discuss global challenges,” the Clinton Foundation told The Daily Beast in all earnestness, “they take real, concrete steps toward solving them.”
Where the Clinton Global Initiative University is similar to Trump University, however, is that it never received permission to call itself a university.
On March 30, 2010, the New York state Department of Education sent a complaint to Trump regarding Trump University LLC.
Trump U had been founded five years previously as a means of capitalizing on the newfound superstardom that came to Trump, a developer of really yuge buildings and a tabloid fixture, with the premiere of NBC’s The Apprentice in 2004.
Trump hired ivy league professors and intellectuals to create an online curriculum that promised to teach his fans the tricks of the real estate trade.
But when those classes, sold on CD-ROM, proved an insufficiently profitable business venture, Trump U pivoted to hosting real estate seminars and selling mentorships to single moms for $35,000.
Technically Trump U never said it was a real college.
There were no credits to be had or graduation ceremony to attend.
But there was a school crest—a medieval lion roaring before a backdrop of red and gold—and a promise that, with his help and his help only, “students” could become tycoons themselves.
And that was enough to set off some alarm bells at the Department of Ed.
“In the state of New York, ‘university’ is a legally defined term that may not be used in the real or assumed name of a business corporation, or not-for-profit corporation without the prior written consent of the Commissioner of the State Education Department,” the letter, from then-deputy commissioner Joseph P. Frey, read.
Frey alleged that, based on Trump University’s website alone, “It is evident that it is holding itself out as an institution of higher education,” which, he wrote, was a violation of New York State Education Law.
“In light of this violation,” Frey wrote. “I must ask you to immediately discontinue use of the word ‘university’ in your corporation’s name.”
After first toying with renaming themselves “Trump Education,” Trump eventually settled on, “The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative” before going out of business altogether. Today, the company remains the subject of two class action lawsuits in California and a separate suit brought by the Attorney General in New York, Eric Schneiderman.
Doug Varley, an attorney with Caplin & Drysdale who the Clinton Foundation said it, “engaged with” on this issue, pointed to a caveat in New York state education law during a conversation with The Daily Beast.
Varley believes the caveat means the Clinton Global Initiative is legally permitted to use the term university to describe its program.
The law–8 CRR-NY 3.29–specifies that the same rule which forced Trump University to change its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative does not apply to “individual proprietorships, associations, co-partnership or corporations which do not offer educational programs and whose name includes the world ‘college’ or ‘university’ in a context from which it clearly appears that such an entity is not an educational institution.”
For the Clintons’ sake, Varley better be right. The Clinton Global Initiative Entrepreneur Initiative doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.