For-Profit Group's Western Spoof Takes Shots at Community Colleges and For-Profits

May 23, 2011

A video clip featuring the head of the major association of for-profit colleges, Harris N. Miller, dressed like the character Woody from Toy Story and cracking jokes that make fun of community colleges and his member colleges' own advertising messages, was live on YouTube for the past several days before it was abruptly taken down on Monday.

Not everyone appreciated the humor.

The video was apparently assembled from "internal" clips from a shoot conducted by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities to be used as a video invitation for a barbecue that is part of its forthcoming annual meeting in Texas.

Set to twangy Western music, the clip includes one scene of a cap-gun-toting Mr. Miller, taking a mocking jab at the make-up artist who had misapplied his pancake in an earlier scene.

"That make-up girl probably went to community college," he says. "She doesn't even know what she's doing."

In another clip, Mr. Miller jokingly appeals to prospective students. "Ain't you got no ambition in life?" he says in a Western drawl. "Go to the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, and we'll get you your life's ambition."

The association removed the clip from YouTube at around 3 p.m. on Monday, shortly after The Chronicle called to inquire about it.

Mr. Miller said the video was in the process of being edited, and clips were shared privately through YouTube. "Someone leaked it," he said.

The video was "meant to be silly and stupid," he said. "It's spoofing me. It's spoofing community colleges. It's spoofing movies."

Mr. Miller said he was sorry if the humor was lost on some viewers. "We tried to be funny, but the people who drafted it are not Jay Leno," he said.

The clip was live for several days on YouTube and was first featured on a Virginia political blog called Blue Virginia, where it drew derisive comments. It was also circulated on Twitter among several policy watchers who follow for-profit-college issues, some of whom found Mr. Miller's tone disturbing.

"It is deeply troubling that the president of a higher-education association would see it as appropriate to publicly insult community-college students as Harris Miller does in this video," said Craig P. Smith, deputy director for higher education at the American Federation of Teachers, who was among those who circulated the video on Twitter. "If Miller wishes to demonstrate that the sector he represents has integrity and puts students first, this video clearly sends the wrong message."

Added Mr. Smith, "Whether this was an official video or outtakes, it is still an inexcusable statement."