NewU University president: Branding snafu has caused marketplace ‘confusion’

The president of NewU University still hopes his Washington, D.C.-based school will be able to collaborate with the University of Idaho.

But Stratsi Kulinski isn’t apologizing for pushing back in a branding dispute over the NewU name.

“This certainly caused confusion in the marketplace for an extended period,” Kulinski said in an email to Idaho Education News Tuesday. “As the founder and president of NewU University, I will vigorously defend its interests when we are harmed.”

In his email, Kulinski stopped short of calling the matter closed — and he doesn’t rule out seeking money from the U of I.

There is little common ground between the U of I and NewU University; the former is a state land-grant institution founded in 1889, the latter a private school that opened in fall 2022, with the promise of offering three-year bachelor’s degrees. But the branding dispute put these two institutions on an unlikely collision course.

In mid-May, the U of I abruptly announced a $685 million plan to acquire the University of Phoenix. The U of I announced that it would create a standalone nonprofit to take over the for-profit online university. The university and the State Board of Education identified the nonprofit as NewU Inc.

On May 31, an attorney for NewU University demanded that the U of I find a new name for its nonprofit. “Our client is especially concerned that it could be perceived to be associated with the University of Phoenix and/or the University of Idaho,” Thomas Brooke wrote in a letter to U of I officials. “NewU specifically chose a unique name so as to avoid any confusion with third parties in higher education.”

Brooke also demanded the U of I pay NewU University $25,000 to cover its “reputational and financial loss,” and $25,000 per week for as long as U of I used the NewU brand.

In a subsequent June 9 letter to a U of I attorney, Brooke doesn’t mention money. Instead, he lists several collaboration options: a joint, Washington, D.C.-based undergraduate program for international students; a “Semester in D.C.” program for U of I undergrads; an “articulation agreement” between the universities; and the use of NewU University facilities as a proctor site in Washington, D.C.

U of I officials have since renamed its nonprofit Four Three Education, and have said they consider the branding issue closed. The U of I has no plans to pay NewU University, U of I spokeswoman Jodi Walker said last week. She also downplayed the prospects for working with NewU University. “While we would never rule out the possibility of collaboration that makes sense for our students, this is not or focus right now.”

The branding dispute was unfortunate, Kulinski said, “but I subscribe to the belief that ‘to err is human.’” And he says a collaboration would buttress public confidence in the U of I.

“The proposed collaboration between NewU University and the University of Idaho is a genuine test of how competent and visionary higher education leaders could turn a crisis into an opportunity,” he said. “It is now up to the University of Idaho to demonstrate to all stakeholders and observers that its leadership team is capable of smoothing bumps on the road proactively, expediently, and in good faith.”

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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