A professor granted tenure by Northeastern Illinois University got his doctorate from a school the federal government later labeled a "diploma mill," but the state university says it granted him the lifetime job security under a rule that allows "exceptional" teachers to be hired without a doctorate. Given the glut of out-of-work Ph.D.s in recent years, that's a rarely used provision. Northeastern Illinois officials said that only one of the school's 280 other faculty members doesn't have a doctorate. Although Theophilus Okosun says he disowned his Ph.D. around 1998, it's still included on his current resume, provided by Northeastern Illinois University, and mentioned in several other places. (John J. Kim/Sun-Times) The granting of tenure last year for Theophilus "T.Y." Okosun, a professor of justice studies, has caused rumbles among faculty members at the 12,000-student public university on Chicago's Northwest Side. Okosun got his doctorate from the now-shuttered Pacific Western University in Los Angeles. In a 2004 report, the congressional agency then known as the U.S. General Accounting Office said the school was unaccredited, offered degrees for a fee and didn't require any classroom instruction. The report -- titled "Diploma Mills Are Easily Created and Some Have Issued Bogus Degrees to Federal Employees at Government Expense" -- said Pacific Western and two other schools issued "academic credits based on life experience and require no classroom instruction. ... Instead, the schools market and require payment for degrees on a flat-fee basis.'' The cost for a Ph.D. from Pacific Western: $2,595. Those involved in hiring Okosun at Northeastern Illinois in 2003 didn't know about the problems with his degree from Pacific Western, which had been under investigation for years even before the federal report was released, at the time he was offered the tenure-track job, sources at the school said. They said Okosun wouldn't have been considered for the position if it had been known his Ph.D. wasn't from a legitimate program. Northeastern Illinois Provost Larry Frank wouldn't say at what point in the tenure process the school learned the degree wasn't valid. But the school allowed Okosun to pursue the lifetime employment contract -- without a Ph.D. -- based on his teaching skills. Okosun eventually demonstrated to faculty and administrators that his teaching is so "exceptional" that he is worthy of tenure, Frank said. "You already have to present yourself as a superior teacher or scholar to be tenured," said Frank, who as provost is the school's chief academic officer. "So 'exceptionality' means better than superior.'' Pacific Western was licensed by the State of California to operate in the late 1980s and 1990s but never sought accreditation, which entails a rigorous review process by a private accrediting agency and is undertaken by all mainstream colleges and universities in the United States. Pacific Western was denied a renewal of its California state approval in 1994 -- the year Okosun finished his degree. The school sued and, under a settlement, had its state license renewed in 1996, though it still wasn't accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the main accrediting body in the western United States. Shortly after the GAO report, Pacific Western was sold, its name changed, and new staff hired. Okosun said that, at the time he obtained the doctoral degree from Pacific Western, he didn't know it wasn't legitimate. Okosun said he disowned the degree around 1998. "I started discovering folks had issues," said Okosun, a native of Nigeria whose salary at Northeastern Illinois is $52,500 a year. "I said, 'Hell with this.' ... Those of us who come in as immigrants, we didn't understand the difference between 'state-approved' and 'accredited.' " Okosun already had two master's degrees from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium when he moved to the United States. He was drawn to Pacific Western, he told a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, because it claimed "you can do your work through correspondence." He said he spent two years taking classes by mail and completing a thesis on violence at Cabrini-Green, where he'd been working for a nonprofit. A two-year time frame to earn a Ph.D. is far less than what's typically required for a doctorate. Okosun declined to provide a copy of his transcript or of his thesis. He said he still felt obligated to list the degree on his resume, which he submitted to Northeastern, because "when you put out a portfolio, it's your ethical responsibility to say where you have been." He said university officials knew it wasn't legitimate because he told them. "I said, 'Look, this is an unaccredited institution,' " Okosun said. "That was clear.'' But the resume he initially submitted when he applied for a job as an academic-support professional at the Chicago school in 1996 makes no mention of Pacific Western's unaccredited status. When Frank offered Okosun the tenure-track job in justice studies in 2003, the provost referred to him as "Dr. Okosun.'' The school president also referred to him as "Dr. Okosun'' in documents requesting approval of his final tenure application at a board meeting last year. The Ph.D. is listed on his current resume, provided by the university -- with no explanation. "That could mislead people," said George Gollin, a University of Illinois physics professor who has investigated diploma mills. The degree Okosun said he has disowned also is cited in several other places: • It's listed in a 2006 article that appeared in the International Research Journal of Arts & Humanities. Okosun is on that journal's editorial board. • A more recent article about him on the Web site of Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. -- where he is now pursuing an online Ph.D. -- also mentions his first doctorate. • The discredited degree also is listed multiple times after Okosun's name in Northeastern Illinois' 2009-2010 course catalog. "To be perfectly honest, when that was first put in, we didn't realize that was not an accredited institution," Frank said of the catalog. Okosun has since asked that the reference be removed, Frank said. Northeastern justice studies department head Cris Toffolo -- who wasn't involved in Okosun's hiring or promotion -- lauded his teaching. "Students sitting in his class are absorbing theoretical thought patterns in a way that I'd never seen any other teacher do," she said, describing student reviews of his teaching as "very, very good.'' The school declined to release the evaluations. The other candidates for the justice studies job that Okosun won either had a doctorate or were finishing that degree at the time they applied, sources said.