Donald Trump's University Facing Lawsuit

Donald Trump's for-profit course program aimed at training students in "real estate, asset management, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation" is facing some major pushback. The New York State Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit on Saturday accusing Trump's organization of swindling customers into paying high fees and not delivering on a number of promises. However, Donald Trump is pushing back, saying the lawsuit is an elaborate, politically motivated scheme to harm the billionaire and his organization.

The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative (formerly Trump University) is Trump's online education company that offers a range of vaguely business-themed courses for fees ranging from $1,500 to $35,000. The company is not accredited and thus cannot confer degrees or university credits.

Trump's education venture is now facing a suit from the state of New York, seeking at least $40 million in restitution charges for running the program as an unlicensed school from 2005 to 2011, and for making false claims about its classes, amounting to an elaborate bait-and-switch act harming customers. An alleged 5,000 people around the country (600 of whom are New Yorkers) are said to have spent money on the Trump courses now coming under fire. 

New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the lawsuit by saying, “No matter how rich or popular you are, no one has the right to scam hard-working New Yorkers," adding, "anyone who does will be held accountable."

Among criticisms, the attorney general's office accused Trump's school of promising students they would receive access to individuals whom never appeared in the classroom, as well as making unkept promises that students could easily recoup the costs of the program by making tens of thousands of dollars in real estate deals after gaining training from the program. "Instead of providing all of the promised services," the attorney general's press release claims, "[Trump University] instructors used the three-day seminars to pitch consumers an expensive Trump Elite mentorship programs costing $10,000 to $35,000."

But Trump is fighting back. He responded that the suit is "political hack," motivated by Schneiderman's political aspirations and friendship with President Obama, whom the Attorney General recently met with. He cited tens of thousands of surveys of student satisfaction are available, claiming a whopping 98% of customers reported being "extremely satisfied." 

A new website, which appears to have been created on Monday by Trump's camp, is now displaying tens of thousands of positive student testimonials that support the school.But Trump's organization claims one satisfied customer is Tarla Makaeff, who is now named a plaintiff in one of California's class action lawsuits demanding a refund. Trump's website says Makaeff was once a self-proclaimed satisfied customer, who said on video after a Trump University course, "I thought today was great. All of the speakers were really good." While Trump's get-rich promises surely seem too good to be true, his school's surprising claims about high student satisfaction, if valid, do put into question just how unsatisfying the courses have been for students, who now have an opportunity to profit off of legal action.

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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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