July 19, 2023

Did A Runaway Chatbot Spice Up A Website Praising College Owner Arthur Keiser?

Did A Runaway Chatbot Spice Up A Website Praising College Owner Arthur Keiser?

A website with the apparent purpose of lauding controversial, ultra-wealthy Florida for-profit college owner Arthur Keiser has added 16 posts over the past two months, with titles like “Exploring Arthur Keiser’s Impact on the Academic Excellence of Keiser University,” “Why Keiser University Stands Out: A Closer Look at Arthur Keiser’s Educational Legacy,” and “The Philosophy of Arthur Keiser: Quality Education for All.” The prose includes such memorable lines as,  “Arthur Keiser’s vision and leadership have played a pivotal role in shaping Keiser University into a prestigious institution that excels in providing quality education and addressing Florida’s workforce needs” and “Keiser University stands as a beacon of academic excellence under the leadership of Arthur Keiser. ”

But, as former U.S. Department of Education senior official Robert Shireman noticed this morning, one passage in a post dated July 3 and entitled “A Closer Look at the Success Story of Arthur Keiser and Keiser University,” seems at cross-purposes with the rest of the website. It states:

However, recent reports have raised concerns about Arthur Keiser’s college operations, particularly regarding Southeastern College, a for-profit career school owned by Arthur Keiser and his wife Belinda. The report highlights concerns about predatory recruiting, executive misconduct, and conflicts of interest. It’s worth noting that several top executives work for both Southeastern College and the non-profit Keiser University, where Arthur Keiser serves as CEO and chancellor. These concerns have led to calls for further investigation by the IRS.

That paragraph seems to track an article we published on this website in August 2020, which included this subhead: “A close look into Arthur Keiser’s college operations, based on accounts by former school officials and employees, raises new questions about predatory recruiting, conflicts of interest, executive misconduct, and the validity of the non-profit status of his schools.”

[UPDATE 07-28-23: In the past day or so, the week after we published this piece, the cheeky post was deleted from the Arthur Keiser Media website. However, not only did we make a screenshot (below), but also, perhaps with the assistance of a Keiser fan, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has preserved a copy.]

All these mostly pro-Keiser articles are credited to one Damon Roberson, but their stilted prose suggests they might have been drafted by Chat GPT or some other artificial intelligence chatbot. Perhaps a pro-Keiser human editor intervened at some point, but that human might have missed the passage above.

Until May 3 of this year, the “blog” page of this website featured only a single post, dated March 11, 2019, entitled “Dr. Arthur Keiser Serves as Chairman of the ADA’s Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes in South Florida” and containing a Keiser University press release with slightly better prose.

It’s not clear who operates the website, titled “Arthur Keiser Media,” that includes these blog posts, although the bottom of each page says, “Arthur Keiser | Copyright © 2021.”

A Keiser University spokesperson has not responded to my questions about this website and blog posts.

Arthur Keiser serves as “Chancellor and CEO” of Keiser University, a large multi-campus school that was converted from for-profit to non-profit in 2011. Keiser is also co-owner, with his wife, of a smaller for-profit school, Southeastern College. The Keiser schools have received hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to enroll students in programs ranging from business to health care to “golf management.”

Keiser University has repeatedly gotten in trouble with law enforcement, and settled claims, including with then-Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and with the U.S. Justice Department, over allegations of deceptive and unlawful recruiting practices. And recent staff members have told us about predatory behavior still happening at the school, including recruiting of low-income people seemingly unprepared for college programs and of people with insufficient English language skills to understand the course work.

Senior Democrats in Congress, including senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have called on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Keiser’s schools. Last November, the Department determined that Keiser University’s accreditor, SACS, was out of compliance with numerous federal regulations and directed it to provide more information regarding its oversight of Keiser University and that school’s troubling conversion to non-profit status — a deal that gave the school the advantages of being a non-profit while allowing Arthur Keiser to keep making big money off the school. Keiser University admitted under congressional questioning in 2021 that the IRS imposed a penalty on the school for improperly steering profits to Arthur Keiser by entering into leases above fair market value with Keiser-related for-profit companies.

In addition, multiple programs at Keiser University are now either on probation with various accrediting agencies charged with monitoring educational quality, or are in the process of losing their accreditation entirely.

Arthur Keiser is a member, and former chair, of NACIQI, the Department of Education’s advisory committee overseeing accrediting agencies. He’s also a long-time board member of the for-profit college trade association Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU).

At least Carl Barney, another wealthy for-profit college owner who engineered a notorious conversion to non-profit, seems to write his own blog posts.

Did A Runaway Chatbot Spice Up A Website Praising College Owner Arthur Keiser?

UPDATE 07-27-23:

A New York-based company called Vector Media has an interesting post on its website, dated June 3, 2023, called “Is Keiser University A Scam? Keiser University ‘Scam’ Review.” It’s at the interesting URL https://vectormedia.com.ng/2023/06/03/keiser-university-scam/.

The piece rambles and roams around the question posed by the headline. “While it would be premature to definitively label Keiser University as a scam,” the article tell us, “it is evident that there have been concerns and complaints raised by students and individuals in the past. However, it is equally important to consider that institutions can evolve, learn from past shortcomings, and make improvements to enhance their services…. In the end, the key takeaway is that Keiser University may not be a scam, but it is necessary for the institution to continually strive for transparency, effective communication, and responsive support to uphold its commitment to providing a quality educational experience.”

That article also sounds to me like it was written by a chatbot, maybe with a little editing on top.

Vector Media describes its mission as “help[ing] brands Tell Better Stories” using “an innovative outdoor advertising platform.” It also has a whole page of posts asking whether one company or another is a scam “or legit.” The Keiser post is linked from that page.

I’m not sure what motivated Vector Media to create this post asking whether or not Keiser University is a scam, and concluding that it may not be, but that the school could communicate better. But in 2018 Vector Media acquired Direct Media USA, “one of the nation’s largest municipal transit advertising companies.” Direct Media USA has designed bus advertising for Keiser University.