Minister with unaccredited Doctorate

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by potpourri, Feb 13, 2015.

  1. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    Imagine no further. Here is the approach I take, and will continue to take. Never would I try to publically demean, shame or humiliate the person with an unaccredited doctorate, so I would not say to someone what you've suggested above. I simply do not/would not use the title "Dr" in my dialogue with them or address them using that moniker, plain and simple. If that person is brazen enough to pursue the issue and demands a reason, then yes, I would share my concerns over unaccredited degrees. It isn't about an "in-your-face" attitude toward unaccredited degree holders as that isn't my personality; however, I can not bring myself to address someone as "Dr" when the credential has not been earned via given norms of academic protocol.
  2. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Yes, I'm aware of the sort of thing you're describing.

    But think about what I actually said: "There's nothing awry with calling someone doctor when they've earned a doctorate. The school's accreditation status doesn't change that, because accreditation doesn't confer legitimacy, it just verifies it."

    I did not say that one should respect someone who has not earned a doctorate but claims one, nor did I say that all unaccredited schools are legitimate. I'm referring not to people who bought paper from degree mills, but to people who have a doctorate from somewhere like WISR, which is pretty well understood to be a legitimate institution despite not living up to RAM's vaunted given norms of academic protocol.
  3. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Trinity is unaccredited. But I don't believe one could rightly call them a diploma mill (not saying anyone has thus far, but just wanting to get my position out there).

    When I used to float in fundamentalist circles, Trinity was a pretty common name. They have actual coursework. They have a physical campus. I took two courses from them back in 2003, and I can safely say that they don't have any of the "tells" of a diploma mill. My first course went like a breeze. My second course I received an "F" because I either didn't turn in, or turned in extraordinarily crappy work. Trinity previously achieved candidate status with a regional accrediting body (I honestly forget where they are and am too lazy to google their physical location). They withdrew from that candidacy and seem to be stating that they are never going to try again.

    I would not earn an unaccredited degree, personally. But in certain contexts I really do understand why people pursue them. Religious vocations are chief among those reasons. I once bumped into a priest who earned his Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L) from the St. Sophia Institute in New Jersey (Ukrainian Orthodox). The institute is not accredited. They, in fact, seem to only award the licentiate, which is not even a degree in the United States (someone please jump in if a university has actually started offering one). So he's sporting an unaccredited degree. But that unaccredited degree was a requirement to get his job. So, we can't really crap on it and say:

    "Well, he should have told his bishop to shove it and he should have insisted on attending St. Vladimir's Seminary instead!"

    Many of the seminaries out there don't have regional accreditation, anyway. A fair number of them are sporting ATS accreditation solely. And you can have an RA accredited MDiv, but if your denomination requires you attend their ATS accredited seminary (or, in the case of the Ukrainian Church, their unaccredited seminary) then deciding to go elsewhere means a shift in your religion.

    Would I call a person with an unaccredited doctorate "Doctor?" I suppose it depends upon the context. If he's wearing a white labcoat and prescribing me meds, no. If I bump into him at a churchy type of thing where his degree is at least tolerated, yeah sure.

    There's a pretty big difference between a diploma mill "degree" and an unaccredited degree.
  4. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    They aren't "RAM's vaunted given norms of academic protocol," try to use a WISR degree in the real world and you will become aware of whose academic protocol is being followed. The utility of the WISR degree will speak for itself.
  5. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    If you're a consultant, or you're trying to look more serious as an author of books for a mass audience, or something like that, then a doctorate from WISR is probably fine. If you're interested in the tenure track, then it's probably no help at all. But then, the same description would probably apply to doctorates from many lower tier regionally accredited schools' humanities departments.

    Either way, you're changing the subject, because you're now referring to how useful in a specific situation such a degree is rather than simply whether it's legitimate. And at the risk of personalizing this discussion, I don't think I'm off base to think they're your norms, because you're the one who said he wouldn't refer to someone as "doctor" if the person had earned it from a school like WISR, and that's an individual decision on your part. (On the other hand, had you said, "At my institution we categorically wouldn't hire such a candidate," then I would understand that better, because that's something that's at least somewhat imposed from outside.)

    Anyway, I suppose I've had my say on this, so you're welcome to the last word.
  6. edowave

    edowave Active Member

    If that person legally changed his name to "Doctor", I might, but would have to think about it carefully first.
  7. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member Staff Member

    What about cats with unaccredited doctorates?
  8. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

  9. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Your argument can be summarized as follows: a "good" unaccredited doctorate deserves respect, even though a "bad" unaccredited doctorate does not.

    And this is actually true -- in theory. Unfortunately, it doesn't work in practice, for the simple reason that -- in the absence of accreditation -- there is no objective way to distinguish a "good" unaccredited doctorate from a "bad" one. It's an entirely subjective distinction.

    Those who would require doctorates to be accredited have a powerful argument on their side: their definition is "hard" and objective. We can all agree on whether or not a given doctorate has legitimate accreditation, right ?

    Those who would argue that certain unaccredited doctorates are acceptable, while acknowledging that others should be dismissed, can't match that argument. The definition of "acceptable unaccredited doctorate" is ultimately "squishy" and subjective. Your definition is probably different from mine, and neither is better.

    The reality is that "hard" objective definitions are more useful than "squishy" subjective definitions, and are therefore preferred by more people. It's obvious that qualities like "inches" or "gallons" or "degrees Fahrenheit" would be much less useful if they were defined subjectively. Well, the exact same thing is true for titles like "Major General" or "Attorney-at-Law" or "Doctor".
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2015
  10. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    Didn't mean to change the subject, Steve, I was trying to address two components of the unaccredited degree discussion: substance and utility. I do believe there is a small nucleus of unaccredited institutions offering substantive programs of academic study. The original post focused specifically on a person who is a minister (i.e., clergy), and touts an unaccredited doctorate (DMin). In my profession I have seen numerous clergy in the specific scenario described in the OP, and as a result can speak with firsthand knowledge on the subject. In some of cases I've seen, all degrees claimed by the clergyperson were from unaccredited institutions. However, in more than a few cases, the undergraduate and graduate degrees were earned from legitimately accredited institutions, followed by a doctorate from an unaccredited institution. Institutions in the latter category ranged from blatant degree mills (i.e., credit card to credential option) to most often, institutions that awarded a doctorate for a miniscule amount of academic work.

    As the academic pyramid is ascended--i.e., moving from a 2-year degree to a 4-year degree, then to a masters program, and finally to a doctorate--the higher one goes, the number of unaccredited schools offering substantive programs decreases. From my personal experience, when looking at doctoral level programs in juxtaposition with, e.g., 2-year degree programs, there are far fewer unaccredited institutions offering substantive doctoral level studies (on par with legitimately accredited institutions).
  11. graymatter

    graymatter Member

    The institution where I teach residentially has 2 faculty members with non-accredited degrees. They are addressed by students and faculty as "Dr" but any official documentation always says "Rev." I've wondered before what they would be called if they weren't ordained. I suppose it would have to be "Mr" but that seems like a big disconnect.
  12. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    It sounds like the institution will not officially acknowledge the unaccredited doctorates.

    Just curious:

    1. Is the institution where you teach regionally accredited?
    2. Per these two faculty members, are the unaccredited degrees doctorates?
    3. Are their other degrees accredited?
    4. Do the positions they hold at the school require a doctoral degree?
  13. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Just to throw a wrench in this discussion further, I think it worth noting that there is likely some regional variation to this as well.

    It has been previously said that:

    However, different states have different rules here. So yes, if I earn an unaccredited D.Min. from a school in say, Florida, you have no objective way of knowing the substance of my degree. Florida is rather cavalier about allowing ANY school to issue religious degrees.

    But New York and Pennsylvania are NOT so flippant about institutions issuing degrees. Neither has a religious exemption for degree granting institutions and both require the institution prove itself, regardless of whether their course content is religious or secular in nature.

    The advent of distance learning has muddied the waters a tad. It is no longer highly suspicious for me to have a degree from say, the University of New Mexico, despite the fact that my CV may indicate I never lived in, near or around the state of New Mexico. So when looking at an unaccredited degree, one might also consider 1) where is the school based and 2) is the school operating legally within that state?

    If you attend an unaccredited school that is approved in say, Oregon, I think there is a pretty good chance the school actually has its act together. A state approval from any of these more rigorous states should mean SOMETHING, even if it just reassures that the institution is not a diploma mill. That doesn't mean it is a great school or even a good school, but that it is at least an actual school and not just a place to buy a diploma.

    But I do enjoy these completely unrealistic scenarios where everyone here is running into unaccredited D.Min.'s who, apparently, INSIST on being called "Doctor" in casual conversation thus forcing everyone to immediately consider the morality thereof.

    Do people with unaccredited doctorates come up periodically? Sure. In fact, one came in for a job interview the other day. No one called him "Doctor." Why? Was it because we all had a great laugh at his bogus doctorate (it was bogus too, it was Alameda)? No, it was because we don't refer to interview candidates as "Doctor." We are on a first name basis. He didn't get the job. The unaccredited doctorate didn't help his cause but, perhaps not surprisingly, his "doctorate" was also the most impressive part of his resume. Yet, he left our office neither tarred nor feathered and, judging by his LinkedIn profile, still employed by a municipal government. Have others come before him with unaccredited degrees? Yes, though he was the first one with an unaccredited doctorate to interview with us. For the record, we did address him as "Doctor" on his rejection letter.

    I'm not Jewish, yet, if I met a Rabbi I would still refer to them as "Rabbi." I'm not a Catholic, yet I would still refer to a Catholic priest as "Father." So if a minister, yogi, gothi, priestess has an unaccredited D.Min. what's the harm in just being polite?
  14. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    St. Sophia has the additional legitimacy of being backed by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA Synod at South Bound Brook. UOC-USA is in turn backed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is a full member of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops. It is their main seminary (relatively tiny as St. Sophia is; it's not a big jurisdiction); a guy from one of their parishes who has a priestly calling may be directed by the Bishop to St. Sophia.
    My daughter was actually baptized by a priest who teaches Canon Law at St. Sophia. He attended St. Vlad's (RA/ATS seminary of sister church OCA, formerly "Russian Metropolia") but received his DMin from St. Petersbourgh Theological Seminary in Florida. This latter school lost it's TRACS accreditation a few weeks before he graduated :(. I would have no problem addressing him "Rev. Dr." if I knew about his degree at a time. A proper spoken style is "Father" anyway.
  15. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I agree wholeheartedly with you. And I'm sure the same case can be made for a number of other unaccredited schools that have close denominational ties. New Jersey is also not a state that allows diploma mills to operate with impunity. So, that kind of just ties back to my earlier post about where the college is approved to operate.

    As for SPTS, I suppose it would be a judgment call as to whether you want to consider a D.Min. from there "legitimate" since 1) it lost its accreditation and 2) it exists in a state that allows religious schools to do whatever the heck they want.

    In the end, as you pointed out, the proper spoken style for that gentleman would be "Father."
  16. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    It is a judgement call since it doesn't currently hold a reliable outside endorsement (well... it does seem to have "close denominational ties" to Messianic Judaism, but I don't know enough about that movement to know if it amounts to much). However, I see nothing that would prevent one to at least rate SPS&Y as an "honest effort". Especially if we're talking about a student who was admitted while the school was accredited. At any rate, practical utility of such a degree was always limited anyway. So if someone who has all the degrees he needs professionally (say, accredited BS, MA and MDiv) could take up study there just because he has interest in Jewish heritage in Christianity (which, come to think of it, is EXTREMELY relevant to Orthodoxy, especially liturgics) - why not?
  17. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Come to think of it, here's a St. Sophia alumnus who came up in discussions here: The Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Doctor Andrew (Vujisić), FRAS, FRSA, FRSPH, MRSSAf, MRSNZ, CFT, Lord of St. John and Castlerigg upon Derwentwater, (in the world, Dr. Zoran Vujisić) St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Institute - The Rector . As you can see, the guy runs his own school validated by an offshore school, and he LOVES titles and postnominals. He does have enough accredited degrees to serve him well in three different professions (Counseling Psychology, Applied Linguistics/ESL teaching and theology), up to (accredited) doctoral level. Nevertheless, St. Sophia degree is his seminary degree that likely got him his first ordination.
  18. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    This argument can be summarized as: "Unaccredited but state-approved doctorates may deserve respect, depending on state rules, although some unaccredited but state-approved doctorates may not."

    Again, this is true -- in theory. But is it practical to make such distinctions in the Real World ? Let's consider the cited examples:

    OK, this implies that state-approved but religious-exempt degrees are suspect.

    But how, in these states, does an "institution prove itself"? By obtaining recognized accreditation? If so, then these states are not relevant to a discussion of unaccredited schools.

    It's true that Oregon has policies for the approval of unaccredited schools. However, Oregon also has a religious exemption -- religious schools are not required to seek either accreditation or state approval (although some do). And you previously indicated that state-approved but religious-exempt schools were suspect, right? So can you really trust an unaccredited school because it operates in Oregon?

    If academic legitimacy is based on USDoE-recognized accreditation, then everything is simple and practical. Alternative definitions of academic legitimacy are complicated and/or impractical. For example, I invite you to research the policies of all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) to document which ones currently have approval policies for unaccredited schools that you would regard as conferring academic legitimacy. This would be a difficult job, and you may be unwilling or unable to do it -- but that just makes the point about impracticality.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2015
  19. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    No one is suggesting that the recipient of an unaccredited doctorate be "tarred, feathered, judged or unemployed." Refusing to use the title "Dr" based on an Almeda credential has nothing to do with being impolite. It is a matter of professional integrity.
  20. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    In this scenario, probably nothing. And to be fair, this seems to be the scenario outlined in the Original Post of this thread.

    However, there are other scenarios where unaccredited doctorates could potentially be used, and where there is potential harm. Note that (1) the DMin isn't the only kind of unaccredited doctorate, and (2) most people who obtain doctorates probably plan to use them professionally, not just socially.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2015

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