Forget Harvard: We’re under attack from a new foe. On June 28, Roger Schank wrote that many Yale courses “clearly have no relevance” to our future lives. The former Yale computer science professor lamented the fact that here, students earn credits in such trivialities as ASTR420a, “Computational Methods for Astrophysics” and WGSS 295a, “Women and Gender in a Transnational Context,” without a single semester-hour spent on the art of the deal or nothing-down real-estate investment. He was evidently so frustrated with the shortage of capitalist dogma in our core curriculum that he joined the faculty of Trump University (as “Chief Learning Officer”) and from this glass house now lobs his stones.
I sat on my hands and held my breath, but Yale has yet to respond; so, stung by the dig — and drunk on power as a News columnist — I find myself saddled with the solemn duty to fire a salvo at the academic comb-over that is Trump U.
Trump University — motto: “We Teach Success” — is devoted to the dogged pursuit of material self-interest. It awards no diplomas, and seems mostly to offer seminars and audio programs on personal improvement and wealth creation. Eager to learn more (and who wouldn’t be?), I visited www.trumpuniversity.com. I registered immediately for e-mail updates — using the ultra-clever nom de plume “D. Trump” and resisting, for the time being, the urge to order a YOU’RE FIRED mug — and have since received nearly a dozen missives promising immediate wealth and insider secrets from the king of capitalism himself.
Donald Trump has amassed a considerable fortune in his lifetime. While not alone in this, he is unrivaled in his insatiable need to parade his wealth. He routinely emblazons his name on everything from shimmering buildings to commercial jets, a show of pretension that would make Gordon Gekko cringe. Still, these prior offenses pale in comparison with his Web site, www.trump.com. For those with a moment to spare between irrelevant Yale classes, I heartily recommend a tour. Watch enthralled as an ostentatious Flash intro, complete with orchestral sound track, segues to Trump’s satisfied smirk. Marvel at “Donald Trump: The Fragrance,” and don’t miss the advertisement for “Trump Ice” bottled water.
Trump’s megalomania leaves no stone unturned; he has even commissioned a scandalously ornate coat of arms for himself, which truly must be seen to be appreciated. This crest and his own face are plastered on every available space around the Web site, and a digitized version of his signature is liberally applied throughout. (Precisely what he is signing, or what assurances we are to take from this, is unclear.) The resulting experience is part Vegas, part Comedy Central. The more Trump strives for authenticity, the more he belies his spurious mystique. In one sense though, our awe is genuine: As a study in bombast, this site is without peer. We are rightly humbled by his utter meisterstück of self-aggrandizing rodomontade.
In short, Trump’s self-promotion is now a business in itself. I do wonder what secrets The Donald professes in his lectures, since so much of his current success stems from trading on his own name — obviously not a tactic the rest of us are poised to mimic.
Trump U could be an amusing diversion, if not for Schank’s destructive message: that a true college education is functionally irrelevant. This idea appears frequently in get-rich-quick material, of necessity. Simply put, every wealth-building guru must ultimately seduce a poor, uneducated audience. Many do so by adopting the ethos of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” author Robert Kiyosaki; namely, empowering the unschooled by attacking, criticizing and ultimately dismissing traditional education. Such snake oil is no doubt tantalizing for those who did poorly in school and yearn to strike it rich, but it’s misleading. Yes, basic financial concepts are omitted from high school curricula to ill effect, as the waxing debt crisis now illustrates; but to claim this cancels the value of a traditional college education is a red herring. Statistically, the most reliable predictor of high income remains a college degree, and I don’t expect Trump U to impact this trend anytime soon. Employers might not “expect anyone to have learned anything relevant at Yale,” but as Schank complains, they still seem quite eager to hire us.
Ultimately, Schank’s critique is hollow. At a university, knowledge is pursued without the omnipresent tether to material gain; it’s therefore disingenuous to label as trivial any subject for which no immediate profit motive asserts itself. Further, a Yale education is more than the sum of its courses: The academic material taught here could surely be ingested by other means, but our experience in doing so would be greatly diminished. It’s difficult to imagine our education without the history, traditions, clubs and architecture that surround us; and harder still to fathom one stripped of the most important factor of all: the students, scholars and assorted lunatics who work and study alongside us. More than anything else, this cacophony of voices, histories and interests defines our time at Yale. And this is one area in which Trump U will simply never compare.
And if that’s not enough, well, Yale has bottled water, too.
Michael Seringhaus is a fifth-year graduate student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.