by Félix Pérez; image of Toomey courtesy of Gage Skidmore
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, locked in a tight re-election battle, has come under renewed criticism for his leadership role in an online, for-profit university that targeted veterans and has since been stripped of accreditation.
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Toomey, statistically tied with challenger Katie McGinty in a high-profile race for a US Senate seat in Pennsylvania, was an investor in Yorktown University, served on its board of trustees from 2007 to 2009 and was featured on some of its marketing materials. The university, which ceased operations this July, marketed itself heavily to veterans and enlisted military personnel. The total cost for its bachelor’s degree was $49,100.
Yorktown operated under a free-market and limited-government philosophy and touted itself as an alternative to traditional colleges, which organizers believed promoted ideologies such as “communism, feminism and radical egalitarianism.” Some of its courses have been described as academically questionable. Yorktown’s course on “political correctness and feminism,” for example, included criticizing “cultural pluralism,” “inclusiveness,” and “diversity.” The instructor taught that women’s studies programs would cause a “daughter” to hate her father and pity her mother and that feminism was an “attack on values that enabled democracy, education, liberty and freedom to thrive in America.”
Toomey, in an ad released last week by VoteVets.org, billed as the “largest group of progressive veterans in America,” has come under fire for his role in Yorktown and for the school’s targeting of veterans’ educational benefits.
In the ad, Damien Melendez, a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, said:
After serving in Afghanistan, veterans like me earned educational benefits. We didn’t expect for-profit colleges to try to scam us when we returned home. Pat Toomey served on the board of a for-profit college that targeted veterans. He tried to turn our military benefits into his financial gain.
McGinty, recommended by the 180,000-member Pennsylvania State Education Association and a former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection and chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, pointed to Toomey’s support while in the Senate of a bill that would reduce regulations on for-profit colleges.
“The TIME magazine story about Senator Toomey’s extensive ties with Yorktown University, a Trump University-style scam with ‘questionable academic offerings,’ is truly disturbing,” said McGinty. “Pat Toomey needs to explain why he’s affiliated with something like this while also pushing legislation that would help shady for-profit schools continue to target students.”
In response to McGinty’s assertions, Toomey communications director Ted Kwong told TIME magazine, “The Senator made a small contribution and lent his name to the organization, but that was the extent of his minimal involvement.” Toomey said McGinty was “resorting to silly, nonsensical attacks.”
Federal and state officials have set their sights on for-profit schools for overly aggressive recruiting, advertising falsified job-placement rates and luring students into high-interest private loans. A growing number of for-profit schools have been closed amid allegations of predatory lending and deceptive marketing.