Senior U., APICS, and the National Post

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Earon Kavanagh

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Jun 18, 2000, 3:00:00 AM6/18/00
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Hello again campers,
 
This is a "very long" post.
I recently came across a link on this newsgroup to a National Post article about SUI.
I read the article and immediately posted it to the Alumni bulletin board of Columbia
Pacific University. I posted the article because Dr. Les Carr of CPU had announced
(in 1999) an intended SUI-CPU merger. That being, if there was any accuracy within
the National Post article, I was concerned for students and alumni that a CPU-SUI
 merger would flush CPU further down into the dark and murky waters of the toilet
that is rapidly becoming the Third World of Higher Education. I then continued to dig
around for some other information regarding the dubious APICS, a group from which
SUI claimed a "full accredited" affiliation. I had already had some correspondence with
John Bear on APICS and it did not look very good. So I took the articles which I found
and posted another article on the CPU alumni board regarding the SUI affiliation and raising
other concens about the CPU-SUI merger. Both posted articles will be found for reference
at the end of this long post to the newsgroup. I then emailed copies of both Alumni board
postings to SUI and to Les Carr of CPU. I received a phone call the next evening from
Dr. Abdul Hassan, the v-p and co-owner (with Dr. Les Carr) of SUI. I conversed with him
for 1/2 hour and accepted his invitation for a site visit. I went to the SUI office on Friday June
16th and conversed with Dr. Hassam for an additional two hours. The following is my report.  
It has been posted on the CPU alumni board and sent to SUI and Les Carr. The story also
features our own John Bear. I think that John has enjoyed so much fame reporting on alternative
education as well as outright shams that he too is now becoming the news. Hmmm. . . perhaps the
medium is the message after all.
 
Report of My Visit and Conversations with SUI's Dr. Abdul Hasan:
On Wednesday evening (June 14th) I received a call from Dr. Abdul Hassan of SUI.
On the previous evening (Tuesday) I had emailed Dr. Hassan and Dr. Les Carr
copies of my recent two posts to the CPU Alumni Board. Both of these posts
raised my concerns about recent allegations circulating via the press and an
Internet Usenet newsgroup concerning SUI (alt.education.distance). In those posts
I also raised concerns about the implications of a talked-about merger between CPU
 and SUI if such allegations were true (that SUI was supposedly a degree mill and
carrying on an "accreditation" affiliation with APICS - suspected by some as a fraudulent
and at best dubious operation). During our phone conversation Dr Hassan assured me that
 SUI has immediately dropped the affiliation with APICS and such changes will be reflected
shortly in SUI's website (
www.senioru.edu) and in SUI's literature. APICS appears to be a
fradulent scheme which offers "full accreditation" to schools that are licensed by their
respective governments (see
www.apics.com) . From reading Internet articles by John Bear
I hypothesized that the founders of APICS would then award similar "accreditation"
to their own operations. Hassan agreed with my appraisal that SUI had been duped
or mislead into the affiliation. He stated that SUI joined APICS on the basis that
two institutions in Eastern Europe had recommended APICS as a means of facilitating
credit recognition between SUI and the two institutions in eastern Europe. It appears that
APICS is bestowing accreditation on whomever it wishes, without their knowing about it,
as a means by which it can gain some kind of publicly perceived valitity itelf. (The above
hypothesis about APICS is wholly my own opinion based in part on Bears articles).
On Friday (June 16th) I visited SUI's 2000 sq. ft. administrative office in a
commercial/industrial section of Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, Canada.
I spent two hours in conversation with Dr. Hassan, discussion aspects of the "merger"
and other matters related to my recent posts.
 
In addition to above comments the following is what I heard from Hassan during my visit
(all from Hassan's point-of-view):
* The talks of a merger are still going on and are academic rather than corporate. There
is certain info that needs to be found out around standards and precedents concerning
 the transfer of transcripts if CPU should be forced to close. For example, if CPU should
be forced into closure what are existing standards and precedents for accepting CPU
alumni as SUI alumni?, etc. These are questions that address, in part, the issue of public
accountability, and of course, public perception.
* SUI is co-owned by Hassan and his wife Nusri, the Registrar. The other partner (50%) is
Dr. Les Carr of CPU. John Bear (long-time distance education author) has also reported
Carr's involvement as co-owner previously in Internet posts on SUI.
* In addition to a board of directors SUI has a separate board of regents.
* SUI has graduated "30-40 students" in total since its founding.
* Hassan agreed with me that SUI (like any other upstart institution) is a "sitting duck"
for negative and unfounded press comments, and that the "straight and narrow"
approach is most important, as are legitimate accreditation and licensing participation.
* SUI has quite recently submitted the paperwork for its self-study to the totally
legitimate accreditor CETAC (see
www.nacc.ca/accred.htm, and follow the links).
Hassan agrees with me that CETAC accreditation is not equivalent to U.S. regional
accreditation. For one thing Canada and USA are two separate countries and our
higher education accreditation systems are totally different (currently Canadian-bred
 universities do not require accreditation). To be specific CETAC has not ever yet
accredited a "university" institution, only carrer/vocational/technical schools. Hassan
states that he sees SUI as a career-oriented teaching-university rather than a
research-university. Institutional research usually involves connections with either
specific corporate funding or specific government funding. Yet, to my knowledge,
most non-traditional distance oriented (including short-residency) universities in
the U.S. are also teaching-institutions and usually do not engage in research other
than what the students do as part of their theses/dissertation requirements
(someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this one, and cite examples). So,
nevertheless, in the U.S., the standard for the non-traditional and teaching-university
(with no institutional research) is regional accreditation.
* SUI applied for the BC Private Postsecondatry Education Commission's accreditation
in 1997 (see
www.ppsec.bc.ca), embarked upon the self-study, but withdrew sometime
after the validation committee's visitation. Hassan's story of the visit indicated clearly
that the visiting committee knew very little of the nature and delivery processes of
distance education. One committee member asked where the library was. Another
asked where the faculty members could be found. Incidently, an employee of the
BC Private Postsecondary Education Commission (PPSEC) told me last week that
during that time period SUI's original president died of a heart attack, and she thinks
that SUI's withdrawal was related to that loss. I'm told by that employee that the
former president actually had the heart attack shortly after leaving a meeting with
PPSEC's executive director and appeared to be quite ill at that meeting. I am told
by the PPSEC employee that SUI has applied this year for the PPSEC accreditation
 - SUI is already registered with PPSEC. Hassan seemed uncertain as to the value
of the PPSEC accreditation, as it seems mostly to revolve around meeting student-loan
requirements in British Columbia.
* Hassan told me that in 1997 SUI received a very good independent review from someone
by the name of Paul Gallagher, who had served as president of a number of colleges
in Canada, and done a comprehensive examination of SUI programs, delivery systems,
and administrative systems. Hassan offered to make a copy of the review available to me.
* SUI students have to use a learning activity log and submit monthly reports to SUI.
Although the State of Wyoming has recently institutionalized this practice for private
postsecondary institutions, SUI began on its own. I thing CPU should also institute
this practice. It represents a good public accountability practice.
* Hassan showed me the faculty files, and the student files. Although I did not look
through the actual files I found his approach to be open and forth-coming. Perhaps
in the future I will look over the files.
* Hassan informed me of a recent conversation with John Bear concerning the article
in National Post. Hassan stated that Bear admitted that the National Post reporter
took Bear's comments out of context when he stated the following as attributable to
Bear: "Senior is what Bear calls a "grey area" school, offering wildly dubious degree
programs under the trappings of authenticity" (Neil Seeman, June 3/2000. National
Post newspaper).  Bear apparently sent the National Post a letter seeking a
clarification of the statement and SUI is apparently seeking a retraction. Hassan
then presented me with a copy of a recent email from Bear, which states the following: >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
(block quotation of email from John Bear to Abdul Hassan of SUI concerning "comments"
by Bear misrepresented by the National Post article): From:
jo...@ursa.net; Re: My
letter to the National Post. Dr. Hasan . . . I am pleased to note the National Post seem l
ikely to publish my clarification. John Bear. (Bear includes the following email mesage
comments from the National Post to Bear): We would like to consider your letter for
 publication. Can you pleae provide us with a daytime phone number you can be reached
at, so we can confirm your letter? Sincerely, Neil Maghami, National Post. (End of block
quotation containing Bear's message to SUI's Dr. Hassan).>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
That pretty well sums up my two conversations (1/2 hr. by phone and 2 hrs. onsite visit)
with SUI's Dr. Abdul Hassan. My subjective conclusion from the visit is that SUI "appears"
to be running a sincere private postsecondary education effort. Hassan is very aware that
 a new profit-making institution is "in business" to make a profit, needs to follow the straight
and narrow to diminish its position as an easy target, is vulnerable to bureaucratic meddling
 with regulations, needs to stay grounded in the processes that serve the need for public
accountability (proper accreditation and licencing), and is an easy target for unscrupulous
media and individuals posing as investigators and distance education experts who suffer
from the equivalent of 'premature ejaculation' when it comes to researching and writing
about their topics. One wonders why anyone would start up a sincere alternative for-profit
institution when proving the institution's mettle means a continuous running through the
above gauntlet. SUI is a new institution and needs to be judged against its own peers
rather than traditional and large universities. Unfortunately, there is no peer in Canada
to judge it against. The only peers in the U.S. are unaccredited and few are receiving good
press these days. Why would someone go to SUI? I'm as of yet not certain. Speaking
personally, after 10 years with Columbia Pacific (an institution currently running through
the toughest gauntlet I have yet seen) I would rather attend a large institution and acheive
the public credibility that comes with such, despite the personal pains associated with the
traditional system. Yet, for those who find their own valid reasons to attend SUI, it appears
from my visit to be quite legitimate.    
     
My Post to CPU's Alumni Board (cc'd to SUI and Les Carr of CPU) on SUI and APICS 
(titled "Important Concerns Re: SUI's Involvement with APICS"
 
Please forward this article to SUI leaders. It is very important and contains allegations
regarding APICS. These allegations could damage SUI's reputation as well as the reputation
of CPU should CPU merge with SUI. Please read and take appropriate action. Formatting
to improve readability on CPU alumni board.  No reply needed.
Thanks,
Earon Kavanagh
Vancouver, Canada
 
Article posted to CPU Alumni Board:
Some other information has recently come to my attention on the subject of Senior U
and its affiliation and claimed accreditation with APICS. This information leads me to
believe that officials at Senior U may have been duped into accepting accreditation from
APICS, an entity which John Bear alludes to as a totally "fraudulent" accreditor. Bear
outlines his thoughts below, and includes as associated with APICS at least two individuals
that are known to him as operators of degree mills. Bear continues by stating in part that
he has already forward this information to Dr. Les Carr of CPU. I sincerely hope that Les
weighs this information carefully. While this information is based on the written opinions
of Bear, it leads me to experience great levels of concern for what CPU might be getting
into in merging with SUI. I realize that this information might be upsetting for some alumni,
but it is better that we find out now while steps can be taken to avoid possible future problems
that will most likely stem from a merger with SUI without appropriately investigating these
allegations. To its credit CPU has historically claimed no false or misleading accreditation.
But through events of the past 4-5 years CPU has been relegated to the murky dark waters
of the third world of higher education - and this third world of higher education is quickly
becoming known in Internet circles as "the dark side". As Larry Smith writes, it is now time
for CPU to walk the straight and narrow more than ever. Otherwise it is we, the alumni and
others, that will pay the price. And many of us have already been paying deeply. I also believe
 that if SUI is a legitimate institution, such allegations of its affiliations with APICS could damage
its efforts toward accreditation with CETAC. While CETAC has only accredited career, business,
and vocational institutions, if Senior succeeds in its bid, it would be the first "university" to
become accredited by CETAC. Here's the commentaries from John Bear. This will also be sent
to Les Carr and to the Senior U office.
 
May 13th/2000.
Here is a partial email message to myself from John Bear on the subject of "APICS", written and
mailed on May 13th 2000: (Bear writes as follows): I can think of nothing positive to say about APICS,
Earon. The long-time involvement of Denis Muhilly, who has been associated with 3 or 4 places that
I have no problem calling degree mills (e.g., Eire International University) does not help. Nor does the
fact that when I contacted the only findable American who was listed as one of their board people
(a professor at Stanford), he was outraged to learn that they were using his name.
I have conveyed such information (more than four months ago) to Les Carr, regarding Senior U,
and I am troubled by that connection. (end of comments from John Bear).
 
John states that Dennis Muhilly, one of the principals behind APICS is now also operating the
American University of Suriname, another fake school. On 4/16/2000 John Bear provided other
information on Dennis Muhilly, on alt.distance.ed, a Usenet newsgroup that focuses largely on
scams in higher education and degree/diploma mills:
(Bear writes as follows): I guess you can't keep a bad man down. Or two in this instance.
Comes now the new and fake American University of Suriname, ostensibly in South America,
with its German-based web site in English, http://www.mba-study.de. The two names on the
website and the pictured diploma are Dennis Muhilly (associated with the fake Eire International
University, the curious APICS accrediting agency, La Jolla University, and other wonders),
and John Tulip (who has been associated with Mellen University) (finish of comments from John Bear).
Bear has written on the totally illegal and fraudulent Mellon University for many years, going back
into the 1980's.
 
And finally, on 05/13/2000, Bear comments on alt.education.distance, about how bogus accreditors
"accredit" well-known schools without their knowledge. According to Bear APICS is one of the
"accreditors" that engage in this practice. Bear was replying to comments about how WAUC
(another bogus accreditor) claimed to have accredited the totally legitimate and private Universidad
de las Américas in Costa Rica.
 
(Bear writes as follows): I'm not personally familiar with this school, but it sounds like the classic
scam that other fraudulent accreditors such as APICS and the bogus agency that Columbia State
set up to accredit itself. The accreditor (in this case, WAUC) bestows unwanted and unrequested
"full accreditation" on a couple of legitimate schools, often without even letting them know that
they've been granted the dubious honor. Then, the accreditor can point to the one or two legit schools
in their roster and say "See!! We accredit legitimate programs!!". Snell at Monticello (a fraud artist recently
convicted of running the totally fraudulent Monticello U.) fraud used weasel-word language with APICS
accreditation, something to the effect of "APICS-accredited schools are viewed as equivalent to regionally
accredited programs", which was true of the two schools that APICS bestowed accreditation without
being requested to do so... but, of course, it was true because the schools were already legitimate,
not because of APICS. If you have any connections at the Universidad de las Américas, I would highly
recommend notifying them that WAUC is a scam so they can take action to have themselves removed
from WAUC's list (end of comments from John Bear).
 
My Post to CPU's Alumni Board (cc'd to SUI and Les Carr of CPU) on the National Post article on
Senior U. (titled "Canada's National Post Calls Senior U. a Degree Mill"
To my recent surprise and shock the following article blasting Senior University International
as a degree mill recently appeared in Canada's "National Post" - a major Canadian daily
newspaper. I hope CPU takes a long hard look at the implications of this upcoming merger
with SUI. Speaking subjectively, I personally do not wish to be seen as associated with any
institution that is perceived publicly as a degree mill or otherwise perceived as dubious. If CPU
should ever recover its reputation I hope it takes care to guard it with due diligence and enter
only into associations that will serve that goal. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
 
National Post Article:
Saturday, June 03, 2000 Would you like a degree with that pizza? That's Dr. Seeman to you, by
Neil Seeman National Post Charles Rex Arbogast, The Associated Press. You won't get anything
like this from a diploma mill. In fact, you may have trouble finding any campus at all. A flustered
Janet Reno, the U.S. Attorney-General, this week urged Ministry of Justice officials to study the
issue of false credentials after investigators were able to buy phony accreditations from online
diploma mills. Government investigators had used fake I.D.s obtained on the Internet to get past
security at 19 federal agencies, at the Pentagon and at two airports. According to John Bear, the
credentials-for-cash problem is hardly unique to the United States. Bear, the co-author of Bears'
Guide to Earning Degrees Nontraditionally, has been waging a one-man war against diploma mills
for more than 20 years. One of his discoveries is that Canada has become home to numerous
fly-by-night institutes of higher learning, many of which go to great lengths to avoid the limelight.
"Several use addresses outside Canada such as Mellen University -- run from Toronto with an
address in New York -- and Nova College (a.k.a. Farelston and Nova College), run from Edmonton
but with addresses in Utah and the Channel Islands. And there is the dreadful one-man Washington
University, run from Burnaby, B.C., but with an address in St. Louis (where the real Washington
University is)," Bear notes. Diploma mills specialize in selling dubious credentials, in law enforcement,
medicine, the humanities, almost anything. It is a lucrative business: With hardly any overhead expenses,
the diploma mill industry worldwide is estimated at more than US$200-million a year, with single schools
earning between US$10-million and US$20-million annually. Of course, such institutions cater to our
obsession with credentials. In our ostensibly meritocratic society, the right letters after one's name
open the same doors that a family name or connections alone once did. Hence the scandals of recent
years involving people like Jag Bhaduria, the former Ontario Liberal MP who was ousted from the party's
caucus in 1994 when it was learned he didn't have a law degree as he had stated, or Jane Fulton, whose
fleeting career as Alberta's deputy health minister came to an abrupt end in June, 1996, after it was
discovered she overstated her academic laurels. People like Bhaduria and Fulton attract attention for
claiming degrees they didn't have. But Bear and other observers say that thanks to the Internet, there
is now an enormous, burgeoning industry that makes it increasingly easy for determined resume-burnishers
to obtain actual -- if meaningless -- degrees. Inspired by Reno's call to action, I decided to compile my
own anti-guide to Canada's universities. My goal? To discover what is the absolute worst, bedrock bottom,
school in Canada. The only difficulty was realizing just how stiff the competition would be. --- Simply to
get in touch with a Canadian diploma mill, whose typical life span is three months, you need to find an
anonymous source posted on an Internet newsgroup, send an email to the source, then arrange for a
telephone call with a designated "career counsellor" on an untraceable phone. It's all very mysterious --
and deliberately so. Why the secrecy? Most Canadian diploma mills live in perpetual fear of periodic
CSIS investigations and journalistic exposes on shows such as 60 Minutes, which has run a documentary
on the subject. Hardly any have listed phone numbers. Alberta's Nova College, for example, has a lone
post office box in the middle-class Calgary suburb of Northland Village. (The extreme may be Harrington U.:
Run from California, it has its mailing address at a mailbox service in London, its bank is in Limassol, Cyprus,
and its printing plant is in Jerusalem.) Senior International University, however, which is located in Richmond,
 B.C., with a business Office at the Lifelong Learning Center in Evanston, Wyo., prides itself on being a
"university of open doors," according to the mission statement posted on its Web site (www.senioru.edu).
Senior is what Bear calls a "grey area" school, offering wildly dubious degree programs under the trappings
of authenticity. Nusri Hassam, the school registrar, puts it slightly differently: Senior, she said, simply offers
"a highly individualized model." "If you're lucky," she said, "you can train with the eminent Dr. Hassam himself."
Dr. Abdul Hassam, she informed me, was a world-renowned authority in the paranormal. "You know, like Fox
Mulder of The X-Files." As a test of Senior's exacting standards, I decided to adopt a persona with the worst
academic record I could think of. "Holden Caulfield. What a most curious name," Ms. Hassam said when
I pretended to be J.D. Salinger's sardonic anti-hero and enquired about the university's "school of
consciousness studies and secret traditions." (Last time anybody heard from the protagonist of The
Catcher in the Rye, he had flunked out of high school after losing the foils for the fencing team, of which
he was captain, on the Long Island subway.) Being Holden Caulfield, it turned out, was no barrier whatsoever.
But could they grant me a PhD in psychology; specifically, in alien studies? "No problem," said Ms. --"Ahem,
that's Doctor, actually" -- Nusri Hassam, who is an admitted acolyte of Dr. Abdul Hassam, "who is very much
into consciousness-studies." Nusri Hassam explained that for a fee in the $1,000-plus range -- which is
often negotiable -- students write a one-to-three-page proposal about their preferred course of study. The
student is then placed under the tutelage of a like-minded mentor, asked to complete a series of readings,
and then rigorously assessed, in a kind of "academic defence," on his or her knowledge of those readings --
 over the phone or on e-mail. "If you put in a tremendous amount of work," the registrar said, "you can get
your degree in alien studies in one year." "Is this a joke?" I asked. "No, we're officially recognized by the
PPSUC, a degree-granting authority," she explained, "under the auspices of the state of Wyoming." "What
about the fact I never even really graduated from high school?" I asked Judy, Senior International's receptionist.
"No problem! We evaluate the whole person," she explained chirpily. "We have lots of students who have taken
different programs in different places. But without high-school, things may take a little longer," she conceded.
"How much longer?" I asked in a tone of grave concern. "At the very longest, a year," she quickly reassured
me. Senior's modus operandi is illustrative of what most diploma mills offer: negotiable fees, super-accommodating
administrative staff and hilariously light-weight academic standards. In that regard, Senior is following in the proud
tradition of what may be Canada's best-known and most ambitious diploma mill, Calgary's "College of Technology,"
which shut down two years ago after a flurry of customer complaints. Calgary Tech offered bachelor's degrees,
master's degrees and doctorates for the bargain-basement price of $275 apiece -- which would have made it the
best deal around for a quick and dirty degree if it still existed. The campus literature described the dean, Colonel
R. Alan Munro, as "Canada's premier Aeronaut." (As hard as I tried, I could not find the definition of an 'aeronaut'
in any English dictionary. It is doubtless a prestige profession.) "The Calgary College of Technology was run out
of Spiro's Pizza Parlour," says Bear, describing the school's uniquely studious environment. He proffers jokingly
that "PhD" actually stood for "Pizza, Home Delivery." Today, the torch of academic excellence has passed from
Col. Munro to Egbert Phipps, MD, PhD, MSc, BSc (all degrees from the London-based Royal Society of Health),
 who runs the Alternative Medicines Research Institute (AMRI) in Vancouver. How does the Institute compare to
Senior? Phipps promises prospective students a doctoral degree in alternative medicine as fast as they can
dispatch their resume and a letter detailing their enthusiasm and research experience in the much-misunderstood
field of the "laying on of hands." "Many people don't hold much stock in the laying on of hands," explains Phipps.
"But not me, I'm a huge believer." After interested students fire off the required paperwork, AMRI promises two
standard transcripts, complete with concocted grades, and an official letter confirming successful completion of
the degree requirements. All this costs only $650 -- one of the best bargains anywhere, and easily besting Senior.
"Our awards-granting committee just met last week," said Phipps, "and we agreed that most doctoral programs
charge too much money and insist on way too much study for a degree. So we decided to lower our price substantially,
" he said invitingly. But what kind of a job can students expect with a PhD in holistic medicine from the Alternative
 Medicines Research Institute? "Well, when it comes to laying on of hands, most of us are self-employed," sighed
Phipps. "Although," he added hopefully, "the trend these days is to move toward group practice." A mere week
after speaking with Phipps I received a congratulatory letter embossed with a fake gold stamp. My voice mail and
e-mail mentioned my real first name, and I was forced to use "Neil" in a series of back-and-forth messages to the
Institute to prove my bona fides: So Phipps's letter was addressed to "The Most Honourable Doctor Neil Caulfield."
I had passed already! Even without seeing any of my qualifications, Phipps was "pleased to convey the
recommendation of The Board of Directors and Trustees to award you the Doctor of Philosophy degree specializing
in Holistic Medicines." My telephone manner had clearly impressed him. But he would be even more impressed,
he wrote, if I shelled out US$550 for the "Committee's review fees" in addition to "processing and graduation fees"
of US$100. Since Calgary Tech is now defunct, this means AMRI is the best deal in Canada for a quick and dirty
degree. When he's not busy laying on hands, it seems, Phipps runs another Vancouver-based diploma-mill,
George Washington University, Inc., which offers degrees at the Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate levels --
also without the irritation of real coursework. Yet despite the best efforts of Phipps and others, Canada is still
in grade school compared with the United States when it comes to diploma mills. Though doubtless wacky,
places like Senior and the Alternative Medicines Research Institute are fairly innocuous in their marketing and
basic pedagogical methods (i.e. qualifications + money = matriculation). By contrast, U.S. institutions like
Century University enjoy putting subtle ads -- "Many fields; no classes; NO COST evaluation!" -- in such
venerable publications as The Economist. Kathy, a receptionist at Century's head office (really a suite in
Albuquerque, N.M.), assured me, back in the persona of Holden, that my abysmal performance in high
school was no barrier to obtaining a bachelor's degree in one year and a doctorate in two. "Don't worry,
Mr. Caulfield. You sound really intelligent. And you say you've got work experience? Don't worry, we
account for all of that stuff," she cooed. Eric Hecksler, the dean of psychology at Honolulu's Pacific Western
 University, one of the granddaddies of diploma mills, told me he had just the ticket. Hecksler, who
professes to be a "Stafford-educated psychologist," advised me he "knows all about interpersonal
relationships, and gender stuff too, possibly the most important field of psychology today." The best
part about the Pacific Western degree is that, within just 48 hours -- assuming you have sufficient personal
experience of course -- you will know how soon you can get your doctorate degree. Which can take as
little as six months, maybe less, said Dr. Hecksler. The downside? You have to pay US$5,000 and write a
gruelling 35-page thesis. (A real PhD, even at many of the elite U.S. Ivy League schools, may not even cost
that much, once you factor in scholarships, teaching stipends, bursaries and grants. But a real doctorate
requires serious work: usually two years of coursework and periodic teaching stints, followed by two years
of writing an original thesis, which must be defended before a committee of senior academics in the field.) An
even better option for Holden might be a combined bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degree in metaphysics,
to be completed in a year or less. That is the latest offering from the University of Metaphysics in Studio City,
Calif., whose administrator, Shirley Lawrence, calls it an "unbelievable deal." I agreed. Yet it's not quite as
unbelievable as The Bernadean University, in Chatsworth, Calif. -- it used to offer its graduates a doctoral
certificate absolving them of all their past sins. Aside from elusive hopes of salvation, and the cheap and
exponential marketing power of the Internet, why do diploma mills prosper so? Psychologists generally
agree that people lie about their credentials in order to be more accepted in society. Diploma mills, it
seems, answer that visceral need. Holden Caulfield, describing his high school, Pencey Prep, gets
closest to this truth: "You probably heard of it. You've probably seen the ads, anyway. They advertise in
about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence." No
matter who we are, it seems, we all strive to be that guy on the horse, the phony with the gleaming smile
and the perfect hair and the beautiful girl hugging him from behind -- even if we know him to be a chimera.
Is that so bad? Probably not. But one thing diploma mills teach is that a piece of paper alone may not
necessarily cure us of our insecurities. Perhaps the one thing they do sell is the true meaning of caveat
emptor -- a phrase first put in print in 1523 by Sir Anthony Fitzherbert. He was, according to his biographer,
an Oxford-educated judge -- even though no evidence of this exists.  
 
 
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