An increasing number of federal employees are finding that the path to promotions is adorned with bogus online college degrees, particularly “doctorates.”
On July 27, 2007 I read an obituary in the Washington Post about Rhetaugh Dumas, PhD, RN, a nurse who became a deputy director at the National Institute of Mental Health and a dean at the University of Michigan.
I was genuinely impressed until I discovered that Dumas earned her doctorate in 1975, allegedly from the Union Institute, a distance-learning university based in Cincinnati. Union Institute? I never heard of the place, so I did some investigating.
Union Institute did not exist in 1975. Its predecessor was called the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities. It began to grant degrees in 1971, but did not gain accreditation by the North Central Association until 1985. Four years later it was renamed Union Institute.
Today, the institution offers a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies, an EdD in Education and a PsyD in clinical psychology. The PsyD diploma, however, is not accredited by the American Psychological Association, the recognized professional accrediting agency in the field.
Intrigued by what I discovered in the Dumas case, I did some additional research and came across the name of Laura L. Callahan, a senior federal employee who got not one, but three bogus diplomas from a degree mill called Hamilton University, a “school” that operated out of a Motel 6 in Evanston, Wyoming. Upon receiving her “doctorate,” Callahan insisted that subordinates and co-workers refer to her as “Dr. Laura.”
Callahan’s fraud was discovered in May, 1993, yet she remained on the federal payroll for 10 months at a six-figure salary before she was finally forced to resign.
At the request of Congress, the General Accountability Office (GAO) did an audit of eight federal agencies, selected at random, and identified 463 additional persons with bogus degrees. The Department of Defense, with 257 phony degree-holders, had the worst record in the GAO study sample. One was Charles Abell, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He claimed to have a master’s degree from Columbus University in Louisiana-an organization which was later closed by court order. The investigators also found an Air Force lieutenant colonel in the super-secret National Security Agency who claimed to have a master’s degree from LaSalle University, a diploma mill based in Mandeville, Louisiana. Patricia Walker still serves as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, even though she claims to have a bachelor’s degree from Pacific Western University, a diploma mill banned in Oregon and Hawaii.
The departments of Transportation, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury also had significant numbers of high-ranking persons with bogus degrees, including Daniel Matthews, the Chief Information Officer for the Department of Transportation. His resume included a bachelor’s degree from Kent College-a notorious diploma mill.
Phony college diplomas abound in the federal workforce because personnel officers simply don’t bother checking to see if academic credentials claimed by job applicants are legitimate. Employers in the private sector are more vigilant, but occasionally they also are fooled.
The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management periodically holds seminars in which they train personnel officers from various agencies on how to detect credential fraud. However, the results of these training sessions have been uneven; thus, the problem persists. Some agencies apparently just transfer offenders to other agencies, thus, thus making them “someone else’s problem.”