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