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