As we begin to think about how to re-envision The University of the Future will need to address a whole host of legal issues ranging from how to apportion ownership of intellectual capital developed by the community to the most appropriate business form or forms for the enterprise.
Perhaps the deepest legal and pedagogical question we will have to answer is whether we want to purse the legal authority to charge tuition and issue traditional academic degrees.
If we opt to do so, we will be subjecting ourselves to multiple Federal and State regulatory frameworks and reporting requirements and binding ourselves to play under accreditation rules controlled by established academic institutions whose political and economic self-interests would not likely align well with ours. While the quality of our graduates would no doubt make the withholding of accreditation untenable in the long term, there would no doubt be several classes of graduates whose credentials would not initially be recognized.
If we don’t use the name University* or attempt to issue degrees as such, we will be placing our students at relative disadvantage unless we are in the position to directly or indirectly assure them of gainful near term employment in such a way as was to help them spin off their own sustainable businesses or to provide them with a resume entry that corporate employers at large will view as being of comparable or superior value to a formal degree .
This raises a host of Tax Law considerations vis-a-vis the desirability of seeking a Section 501(c)(3) Not-for-Profit Public Charity designation from the Internal Revenue Service. If secured, this status would make our project vastly more appealing to those high level donors whose philanthropy is a function of their Tax Planning, while also subjecting us to sever restrictions on what kinds of profit making activities our Students and Researchers might engage in under the direct auspices of our institution per se. We may of course be able to structure each activity in such a way as to secure a Private Letter Ruling that it is not in fact generating Unrelated Businesses Income. However this will entail a very close reading of the applicable law and any cases arising from its application.
This discussion only scratches the surface of the many legal considerations that will come into play, which suggests that having our own College of Law capable of performing this sort of analysis in-house would be highly desirable.
- *Under States’ Corporation Law, corporate name choice is quite sensibly restricted to prevent deceptive and/or confusing practices like masquerading as a institution of higher learning when one is not. This is why without even considering the question of issuing academic titles, one doesn’t have to contend with one’s local dentist branding his practice “The College of Advanced Dental Technology” or an accountancy firm billing itself as a “Acme Legal Services”.