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