Brian Mueller, The Most Entitled Man in Higher Education
For weeks, both before and after the U.S. Department of Education imposed a $37 million fine on Grand Canyon University for its systematic deception of students regarding the costs of their educations, the school’s president, Brian Mueller, has engaged in a public relations blitz aimed at attacking the federal officials who investigated and penalized his school.
On Thursday, Mueller took his campaign to a new level, with what was billed as a press conference but was mostly a pep rally speech (VIDEO) with a cheering audience decked out in the school’s purple garb. Mueller pledged to take his righteous complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There is a group of people in Washington DC who has the intention to harm us,” Mueller ominously warned his school community.
Mueller called the Department of Education’s fine “government overreach” and “weaponization,” after which he proclaimed the false assertion that the Department is acting on “an opinion that isn’t shared by anybody else.” In reality, many advocates for students have praised the Department’s effort to protect students against Grand Canyon’s deceptive practices. The Department laid out its compelling case in a 34-page letter to the school. And, by Mueller’s own account, the Department of Education isn’t the only agency looking into problems at Grand Canyon: The Federal Trade Commission also is examining Grand Canyon’s phone calls to prospective students.
At the rally, Mueller repeated his baseless and incendiary claim that Grand Canyon was targeted because it styles itself as a Christian school: “First question I get asked is, ‘Is this religious?’ It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the two largest Christian universities in the country, this one and Liberty University, are both being fined almost an identical amount at almost an identical time. Is there cause and effect? I don’t know. That’s a fact, though.”
In reality, Mueller himself has repeatedly claimed that the Department’s fine is retaliation for Grand Canyon appealing a decision by the Department refusing to give Grand Canyon preferential non-profit school status for purposes of education regulations. But it was the Department under devoutly Christian Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, not the current leadership, that made that decision.
The DeVos decision came after GCU restructured itself into two entities: a non-profit college and a for-profit company that gets paid to provide a range of services to the school. Secretary DeVos had good reason to reject Grand Canyon’s conversion. Not only is Brian Mueller the head of both the non-profit school and the for-profit servicing company, but also the for-profit company has been getting about 95 percent of the non-profit college’s revenue.
On Grand Canyon Education’s quarterly Wall Street call earlier this month, Mueller offered another fib: “The Department for some reason denied our nonprofit status,” he said. “We don’t know what the reason is. They don’t tell us.” Except that the Department, under DeVos, did tell Grand Canyon why, in an 18-page letter. The Trump-DeVos Department of Education concluded that “the primary purpose” of the Grand Canyon conversion to non-profit was “to drive shareholder value for GCE with GCU as its captive client — potentially in perpetuity.”
In his rally speech Thursday, Mueller also made the extraordinarily false assertion that Grand Canyon’s educational achievements are “all happening at no cost to the taxpayer.” Wow. In truth, Grand Canyon is the nation’s largest recipient of taxpayer-funded federal student grants and loans — hauling in $1.15 billion in the 2021-22 school year. That’s a lot more than a $37 million fine levied for misconduct that the school engaged in for five years.
Mueller is clearly spending some of that taxpayer money now on a public pressure campaign to overturn the fine.
In October, several of Arizona’s Republican state legislators wrote to the U.S. Department of Education accusing it of a “witch hunt against Christian education.” Last week, four Republican members of Congress from Arizona called on the Department to cancel the fine and invoked Mueller’s accusation of religious persecution. “Your Department has been keen to repeal robust protections for religious freedom within your jurisdiction,” they wrote.
I wonder if these legislators are aware that Brian Mueller makes $702,000 as president of non-profit Grand Canyon University, and then another $1.8 million a year as CEO of for-profit Grand Canyon Education, which gets most of its money from non-profit Grand Canyon University, which gets most of its money from us taxpayers. Mueller wants the public to pay for his Christian university, and for his multi-million dollar salary, even when his school and company mislead and overcharge their own students. And when things don’t all go Mueller’s way, it’s religious persecution. Brian Mueller may be the most entitled man in higher education.