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Trump Institute Plagiarism Scandal

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jul 5, 2016 8:30:00 AM

Donald Trump has become one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. Constantly beset by controversy, Trump’s colorful past has become the source of a great deal of scrutiny by both his opponents and his supporters.

However, little of Trump’s enterprises have generated more controversy than Trump University. The non-accredited school has been the subject of several lawsuits with many students saying that the school took their money but failed to live up to promises that were made.
But more recently attention has focused on another educational institution bearing the Trump name: Trump Institute.

Trump Institute was founded in 2005, around the same time he was founding Trump University. But where Trump University was a project owned by Trump, the Trump Institute was simply a licensed business owned by Mike and Irene Milin. Trump had no direct involvement other than licensing his name and shooting an infomercial for their products.

The Milins had a long history peddling get-rich-quick schemes via late night television for the National Grants Conferences (NGC). But, where the NGC was about securing government grants, the Trump Institute focused on real estate.

While the tales of high-pressure sales tactics and seminars of dubious value are familiar to these types of products,The New York Times has levied a new allegation: Plagiarism.

The New York TImes article by Jonathan Martin outlines the history of the Trump Institute and says that, for the seminar fees, which could run as high as $2,000, students received a manual that contained at least 20 pages plagiarized almost directly from another guide.

According to Martin, much of the Trump Institute Instructional Book The Billionaire’s Road Map to Success was copied from a book set entitled Real Estate Mastery System, which was first published in 1995.

The plagiarism itself is very straightforward. Though the New York Times only provided a short sample, in it an entire paragraph is copied with only a few words added and a minor formatting change. According to the article, the plagiarism continues in a similar fashion for at least 20 pages.

The plagiarism is made all the more bitter by the fact that, in the infomercial Trump filmed, he promised that the program would give customers access to all his knowledge. “I put all of my concepts that have worked so well for me, new and old, into our seminar. I’m teaching what I’ve learned.”

But while Trump may have misled his viewers about the depth of his involvement with the Trump Institute, it is unlikely he had anything to do directly with the plagiarism. Instead, it was more likely the work of the Milins and others who worked for the Trump Institute.

When one reads about the lawsuits, the investigations and many complaints against the Trump Institute, the plagiarism seems to be the least of its infractions. After all, the program was built upon a model that ultimately forced the Milins to settle with both the Florida and Vermont attorneys general over consumer fraud allegations. With that in mind, the plagiarism is hardly shocking.

The true nature of nearly all get-rich-quick schemes is that the only person getting rich is the person(s) selling them. But for those who wish to peddle such scams, plagiarism is hardly out of place.

To that end, plagiarism detection can help ferret out unethical actors in this and other fields. Just as scientists who manipulate data often also plagiarize their text, scammers will also often take similar shortcuts when creating their works.

Trump’s in-house counsel, Alan Garten, said that executives were unaware of the Milins’ history when they went into business with them. However, due diligence with the product being sold may have sent up a red flag about their ethics, possibly prompting further investigation.

While plagiarism may not be the biggest ethical misstep committed by the Trump Institute, it’s one of the most easily detected. The tools are both available and simple to use, all that is required is the willingness to look.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.