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The stripper and the bogus online degree

By Lisa Neal / May 2007

TYPE: OPINION
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I don't understand why people buy degrees from so-called diploma mills-don't they know the degrees are bogus? And, given that they purchased it, aren't they aware of the potential consequences? In many recent cases, the fines resulting from actually using the "degree" to get a job far exceeded the purchase price.

I can admit that I surreptitiously read about alien abductions in the grocery check-out, but I never imagined that a story on e-learning could approach such scandalous heights. Recently, I spotted an article in The Boston Globe. A former stripper, known professionally as Princess Cheyenne, was found guilty of 19 of 25 counts "of fraud and larceny for posing as a licensed psychologist for seven years and treating clients." Lucy Wightman's past as a stripper was not the issue here-although it ultimately impacted her educational career-nor was Wightman's former engagement to the singer-turned-Muslim-convert Yusuf Islam (neé Cat Stevens), though it was certainly a more interesting read at the check-out than Tom Cruise's marriage. The issue here was the purchase of a bogus online doctorate and the use of it as a legitimate degree.

Wightman earned a master's in counseling psychology from Lesley University. After five years of coursework, she left a doctoral program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology without earning her Ph.D. (Not so odd, I know many people who are ABD-All But Dissertation, a nice way of saying that they went to graduate school but left empty-handed.) The reason for her departure: A dean "confronted her about her storied career as a stripper in Boston's Combat Zone in the 1970s and '80s". But as she later told the jury, Wightman felt that she had earned her doctorate and paid about $1,300 for what she thought was a bona fide degree from Dominica-based Concordia College & University.

According to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, "state law requires that psychologists possess a doctoral degree in psychology from a doctoral program recognized by the state and that they be licensed with the state Division of Professional Licensure." Lucy Wightman reportedly set up a practice claiming she had a doctorate, and never applied for or received a license to practice as a psychologist.

Oddly enough, her master's degree apparently would have allowed Wightman to practice as a psychotherapist. Why didn't she choose to do that instead, or, since Concordia is not recognized in Massachusetts, get a degree from a different school? The questions accumulate-as they do in so many other high-profile cases involving bogus degrees. Ralph Timperi, head of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's infectious disease lab and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, found himself in hot water after purchasing a Ph.D. from "Trinity Southern University" of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for $499. And John McGuire, the police chief of Fostoria, Ohio, recently suffered his own credentials-related scandal after acquiring a Concordia degree.

Concordia's website says that it "removes the obstacles that cause adults to abandon hopes of acquiring their degree." An inscription at the entrance to hell, as described by Dante in The Divine Comedy, may provide a better motto for the school: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  2. Want better courses?
  3. Just "DO IT"
  4. Five questions...
  5. Formative evaluation
  6. Senior service
  7. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  8. My life as a Wikipedian
  9. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  10. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  11. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  12. Not all the world's a stage
  13. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  14. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  15. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  16. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  17. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  18. Music lessons
  19. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  20. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  21. Advertising or education?
  22. "Spot Learning"
  23. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  24. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  25. Online learning and fun
  26. In search of simplicity
  27. eLearning and fun
  28. Everything in moderation
  29. The basics of e-learning
  30. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  31. The Value of Voice
  32. Predictions for 2006
  33. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  34. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  35. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  36. "Deep" thoughts
  37. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  38. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  39. Back to the future
  40. Serious games for serious topics
  41. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  42. Learner on the Orient Express
  43. Q&A
  44. Blended conferences
  45. Predictions for 2002
  46. Learning from e-learning
  47. Storytelling at a distance
  48. Q&A with Don Norman
  49. Talk to me
  50. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  51. Do it yourself
  52. Degrees by mail
  53. Predictions for 2004
  54. Predictions For 2003
  55. How to get students to show up and learn