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UD is...
"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


UD learned about the brevity of news cycles the hard way. After the Bali bombing, your bloggeure sent a reminiscence about Bali to the Washington Post. An editor there said he'd have published the piece if I'd sent it a couple of days earlier, but that at this point it was "too late in the Bali news cycle."

So okay, here I go on the big ol' diploma mills story, which is JUST BREAKING NOW, just hitting the media even as we blog. Congressional hearings have begun; shocking and embarrassing revelations about hundreds of federal employees, many of whom have complex high security jobs, having 'graduated' from bogus universities have revealed themselves; yet more scandalous revelations that many of these same people got federal funds to pay for the 'courses' they sweated over at these whatevers have similarly revealed themselves.

There are, as always, the funny stories, upon which the press will understandably focus: the Kensington University embossed paper recipient who until recently was on the National Commission on Presidential Scholars; the high-level Department of Education advisor who graduated from the same paper dispenser; the spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security who has three bogus degrees.

Yeah, and that last one's interesting. I went to the website of her triple alma mater - Hamilton University, Evanston, Wyoming - and found out that the place has a philosophy, a gestalt, a weltanschauung... Hamilton, first of all, is (its website explains) "exempt from state licensing due to its theocentric nature and affiliation." Which means? Which means that Hamilton believes, er, founds itself upon, um... well, let me quote:

The University...seeks to provide a Nature based forum for education of the mind, body and spirit according to its nondenominational theocentric doctrine. ... We accept all education as equal in Nature. We offer recognition and special designations to those who have achieved higher levels of understanding regardless if obtained naturally or formally. The university is a Nature based institution of higher learning which grants university level degrees that are based in whole or in part of [sic] education obtained through Nature.

I'm not sure but I think this means my dog can get a degree from Hamilton.

Anyway, UD has blogged before (3/29/04) about some of the trouble you can get into (remember Larry Cockrum, director of the Keeter Center for Character Education at the College of the Ozarks?) if you rise just a bit too high with one of these sham sheepskin type things...

But I'm here to tell you that Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who's leading the charge against diploma mills, is bound to fail.

It's really lucrative. John Bear, a former FBI consultant, says the industry is worth $300 million a year. Shut one down and the same people will open another one under another name. So long as job advancement demands higher degrees, higher degrees will be sought. And there's another problem, coming out of legitimate American universities.

Online education sponsored by established American campuses has made it a great deal harder than it already was to weed out the diploma mills. When everyone's online, who's the bad guy? "With more legitimate colleges offering online degrees, the environment is ripe for diploma mills to flourish," writes USA Today , "because it's harder to determine whether a degree earned long distance is really legitimate. ... The use of such diploma mills is expected to spread as more legitimate universities and colleges turn to distance learning..." (28 September 02).

You tell me how to distinguish between

a.) a student at a non-selective accredited American university emailing a poem to a grad instructor who, without reading it, emails an A to the registrar; and

b.) a student emailing one thousand dollars to a financial officer and getting a degree.

The diploma mill is fully within its rights to point out that either both a.) and b.) should be investigated, or both should be left alone to pursue their scams.

The definitive book about distance learning, by David F. Noble, is titled Digital Diploma Mills (Monthly Review Press, 2002). A cosmic convergence is in progress.