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John Glen Sperling (born 1921) is an Americanmarker billionaire who is credited with leading the contemporary for-profit education movement in the United States. His fortune is based on his founding of the for-profit University of Phoenix for working adults in 1976, which is now part of the publicly traded Apollo Group. For ventures ranging from pet cloning to green energy, he has widely been described as an "eccentric" self-made man by the Washington Post and other mediaChronicle of Higher Education, July 10, 2009

Early life

Sperling was born into a poor sharecropper family and spent several years as a sailor in the merchant marine, and even as a wandering 1950s beatnik. He received his undergraduate education at Reed Collegemarker, Oregon, a master's from the University of California, Berkeleymarker under the G.I. Bill, and then went on to attain a DPhil in Economic History at the University of Cambridgemarker.

Entrepreneur and political activist

Before becoming an entrepreneur (at age 53), he was a tenured professor at San Jose State Universitymarker. He was an activist with several liberal causes in the 1960s, building a powerful new California faculty union, and was part of several conflicts with authorities and university leaders of his experimental adult education schemes.

He also provided financing to Genetic Savings & Clone (GS&C), of Sausalito, Californiamarker, which closed in 2006. He spent seven years and $10 million trying to clone a dog named Missy in a project called Missyplicity. Clones of Missy were produced in December 2007. A subproject of Missyplicity was called Operation CopyCat, which successfully created the first cat clone, named CC.

Longevity research

More recently Sperling has directed his attention toward extending the life span of human beings—research into life extension technology or "biological immortality". Wired magazine reported in their February 2004 article "John Sperling Wants You to Live Forever" that his fortune is quickly approaching US$3 billion, and has plans to donate it to human biology research if and when he dies. If he does so, this would be the biggest private program ever devoted to human biology. However, that is no longer the case and Sperling has indicated that his fortune will go to mainly environmental causes.

John Sperling is also an opponent of drug prohibition and is actively financing initiatives to decriminalize medical marijuana in the United States. According to Time magazine, Sperling used marijuana to combat pain caused by the cancer he fought during the 1960s. Together with George Soros, and Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance, Sperling raised considerable amounts of money for drug and other related causes, especially during the 2004 presidential campaign.


In 2000, Sperling published an autobiography called Rebel with a Cause. In August 2004, he co-authored The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro America, released by his newly-created publishing firm PoliPoint Press. It was a sociological treatise attempting to explain the Red America/Blue America cultural and political divisions of the United States.

Despite a $2 million advertising campaign, the book was not widely embraced by its intended progressive audience. Thomas Frank, author of What's The Matter With Kansas?, ridiculed Sperling's view of American society: "One America, to judge from the book's illustrations, works with lovable robots and lives in 'vibrant' cities with ballet troupes, super-creative Frank Gehry buildings and quiet, tasteful religious ritual; the other relies on contemptible extraction industries (oil, gas and coal) and inhabits a world of white supremacy and monster truck shows and religious ceremonies in which beefy men in cheap clothes scream incomprehensibly at one another."

The book, however, did succeed in causing controversy in conservative media. Gary Gregg of National Review Online called the book the work of a "metropolitan elite who distain the cultures and values of middle America." R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, called it a work of "hate, cultural condescension, and bizarre proposals backed up with hare-brained analysis."

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