No, she’s a monster, obviously; Frank Norris’ The Octopus might as well have her on the cover. Forbes ran one of the neatest, soundest, trimmest little hit pieces I’ve ever sen on Elisa Stephens & co. and their dreadful, exploitative Academy of Art University racket this week. It’s a wretched Rube-Goldberg machine designed to match up human beings with vast quantities of debt and everyone in San Francisco has at least one friend who’s lost something to it. (A friend of mine once dated a guy who’d gone to a prestigious, genuine art school, then taken a job at AAU pushing massive student loans at under-qualified and unprepared applicants; I felt mildly uncomfortable at their dinner parties until they broke up, which was hardly making a stand for The People on my part.)
At any rate, if one is going to be featured in an article profiling one’s family with lines like “the illusion is starting to unravel,” “serious code violations,” “abysmal graduation rates,” and “a business model based on underperformers,” one has two options: make a lot of explanations and cavils and excuses, or thrust one’s chin up toward God, wrap oneself in a fur coat, and deny nothing. Elisa Stephens chose the latter, and it’s rather wonderful to watch.
Stephens sounds baffled by the groundswell of negative attention: “I don’t know what prompted somebody to wake up and see us finally,” she says. “We’ve been here, and we haven’t been hiding out.”
Not three paragraphs earlier, the planning commissioner of San Francisco referred to AAU as “an operation of lawlessness never seen in an otherwise reasonably operating city.” Pretty bold claim! What does Elisa Stephens have to say about that? “Uh, yeah. Are you…have you recently moved to the area?” “Yes, we take their money and give them nothing in exchange. Did you…did you not read the quarterly reports?”
She then presumably swanked off in one of her “250 classic cars worth around $70 million, which Elisa often drives in city parades, to the opera or when heading to lunch.”
It’s awful, and capitalism is mostly a vampire, and she is a genuine drain on society, but a small part of me wants to applaud her, like the way a revolutionary salutes the enemy he begrudgingly respects just before signaling the firing squad.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.