Minister with unaccredited Doctorate

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

  1. Pugbelly2

    Pugbelly2 Member

    Great example. Another example would be Louisiana Baptist University. The mention of LBU usually brings a firestorm of heated opinions on this board, but it's unaccredited, has a brick and mortar presence, and is one of 6 schools approved by the BBFI (Baptist Bible Fellowship International). In this case also, ..."the only kind of approval a seminary really needs. Unquestionably, 146% legitimate."
  2. JWC

    JWC New Member

    Princeton Theological Seminary was held in the basement of the parsonage of Reverend Archibald Alexander before a building was erected.
  3. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    Two thoughts:

    1. What is the source of your data that Trinity (Newburgh) has a "decent reputation in Christian circles?" I have not found this to be true among the ministers I know.

    2. Yes, Trinity has course work, but is it equivalent to the same level of course work offered by legitimately accredited schools? I know personally two persons who enrolled at Trinity. One completed several courses, then withdrew from the program citing lack of substance per the level of degree being sought. The second enrolled, partially completed the courses, and withdrew for similar reasons. The same is true with Louisiana Baptist University, where, at the doctoral level, a course consists of completing a several page, fill-in-the-blank, syllabus, along with a 3-page book report. I saw this in several of their courses.
  4. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Then clearly we know different ministers.

    I don't have "data" to support my subjective assessment based on observed anecdotal evidence. Many Christian ministers (whom I have met) make a pass by Trinity at some point in their academic careers. It might be before they get into ministry. It might be after they have been at it for years. Seminaries prepare people for pulpits so if a seminary has its graduates in pulpits, that's usually a good sign.

    But hey, I like some data, so let's look at the following accredited institutions that have Trinity alumni on faculty (or senior administration):

    Calvary Bible College
    Rockbridge Seminary
    Nyack Christian College

    This was just a quick data grab I did before I made any statement about them having a "decent" reputation as I didn't want to base that very subjective assessment solely on my unnamed minister friends. Google also reveals more than a handful of Trinity grads in the pulpits of congregations affiliated with mainstream evangelical denominations

    I will note the irony that you have requested data to substantiate my subjective claim and then proceed to try to negate my statement based on the negative opinions of two unidentified friends and an uncertain number of unidentified ministers of unknown denominational affiliation.

    Let me start of by saying that I don't actually care about Trinity College and Seminary. I've never taken courses from them and I'm really not in the mood to be an apologist for the school. Heck, I don't even identify as Christian anymore. For all I know or care, their coursework is crap. My comments have largely been of not judging all schools with the same broad brush. It is possible that Trinity's coursework IS crap but that many in evangelical circles still respect the school. That still shows they have more substance than a diploma mill. It would be like if a double digit percentage of companies from the Fortune 500 list began hiring graduates from the same unaccredited MBA program.

    I'm not going to respond to your second hand information about Trinity coursework for reasons stated above. I have friends who took courses at Trinity and loved them to bits. One of them told me some years ago that he transferred his Trinity credits to Luther Rice where he completed his studies. There we go, we both put forward the unsubstantiated accounts of our unidentified friends to support our arguments.

    If you take the coursework from a regionally accredited institution and put it next to coursework from a nationally accredited institution, are they equivalent? I'll bet sometimes they are. Most often, probably not, especially at the graduate level. So I suppose that means that if I obtained an NA doctorate you would indignantly wag your finger at me in a public place in lieu of calling me "Doctor?"

    Here's the tricky thing with seminaries; they have a different mission than regular academic institutions.

    Let's say I start the First United Church of Neuhaus. We have 700,000 followers in the United States. I start a seminary in Louisiana (Neuhausians love crawfish). We don't seek accreditation because we are a relatively small denomination and only graduate an average of say 10 ministers annually.

    It's true, if you lay my coursework at Neuhaus College of the Bible beside the coursework of Harvard Divinity School maybe it appears to be less rigorous. But it is also a bit weird to claim that Harvard Divinity School is better equipped to teach students about Neuhausian Theology than the Neuhaus College of the Bible, don't you think?

    So an issue you might raise then is that while Harvard can't teach Neuhausian theology better than the Neuhausians that doesn't necessarily mean that Neuhaus College of the Bible should be in the business of issuing doctorates. Maybe you're right. That would be an interesting discussion. Maybe the right thing for Neuhaus College of the Bible to do would be to not award academic degrees at all and instead just issue a certificate or a licentiate (or anything that doesn't fit the definition of "academic degree" in the United States). But in the end, if my state allows it, my church has the legal right to award degrees and is not required in many cases to even consider pursuing accreditation. If you are looking forward to an illustrious career in the First United Church of Neuhaus, my unaccredited college is the only way in.

    Once again, Trinity is an unaccredited school. I think there are far more bad apples than good in the unaccredited academic world. I don't think pursuing unaccredited degrees is a good idea. However, I also recognize that those pursuing strictly religious education are following the cues of their denominations or at least what other leaders in their communities are doing and that may lead them to religious instruction at places like Trinity.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2015
  5. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Good point. In this case, your school's legitimacy depends on how good an employer the FUCN is. In the same vein, Hamburger University and Community College of the Air Force are clearly legitimate regardless of accreditation.
    The same thing is true of St. Sophia. To be employed as a priest in UOCUSA, there are only two men you can go through: Met. Anthony and Bp. Daniel. Both His Eminence and His Grace are administrators and faculty at St. Sophia. So if it is your goal to get ordained in UOCUSA (and it must be a calling: the pay is lousy), St. Sophia is your place. You could presumably make a lateral move to sister churches, especially ones without their own seminary (although I'm pretty sure these mostly source their clergy either from home country or from the Big Four accredited seminaries: Holy Trinity - Greek, St. Vladimir's, St. Tikhon's and Holy Trinity - Russian).
    Can the similar thing be argued about LBU or Trinity Newburgh?
  6. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I don't want to turn this into a Louisiana Baptist University flame war, but yes, it can be argued for LBU. They are an approved school of the Baptist Bible Fellowship which states it has 4,000 affiliated congregations.

    Trinity does not claim denominational ties. However, we see their graduates at other non-denominational bible colleges (accredited and unaccredited alike). Non-denominational churches are, by their very nature, not tied to a denomination. But since Trinity grads seem to have found homes in the non-denom churches and schools, it tells me they are well regarded. Again, that is just an observation from a few key individuals from google searches (and the number of Christians I've met who respected Trinity and its programs). They both appear "legitimate" in the sense that their mission and goal is not to function as a diploma mill and their graduates seem to be finding work in all of the places where they would hope to see their graduates.

    I don't know, from the time when I used to float in the non-denominational Christian world maybe I just became de-sensitized to everyone being a "Doctor" or at least having an M.Div. To me, if it is strictly a religious degree and used in a religious context, I am far less bothered by it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2015
  7. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    I am not arguing with any of these points. I have no problem with the operation of most unaccredited schools (with exceptions for certain tightly regulated professions) and I can think of certain situations where I might study at one.

    My only point is that I do not endorse the unqualified use of unaccredited degrees. A legal disclaimer, as Oregon requires, seems like a reasonable compromise.

    OK, let's look at your example further.

    In many states outside of California, all of the cited JD degrees are worthless for the practice of law, because only ABA-accredited degrees are accepted (in the legal community, "accreditation" means "ABA"; DEAC or RA is irrelevant). An individual taking a People's or Concord or Taft degree to such a state cannot sit for the bar, cannot legally represent clients in court, and cannot claim attorney-client privilege.

    In that situation, should that individual use the title of "JD" without qualification ? I would say "no": a qualification is appropriate. Why? Because JD degrees are normally associated with the practice of law, but in this situation, the JD degree has no more value for legal practice than a dog license. Agreed ? If so, then you are acknowledging that unqualified use of unaccredited degrees may be inappropriate.

    If such a person passes the California bar and practices in California with a People's or Taft or Concord JD degree, then I'm not concerned. But in that case, passing the bar exam effectively serves as a form of "accreditation".

    Look, if you want to evaluate schools on a case-by-case basis, then go right ahead -- I'm not trying to stop you.

    But many people -- perhaps most people -- don't particularly want to do that. They would rather let the accreditation agencies (who have decades of experience in school evaluation) do the work, where possible.

    If it's not possible -- which is the case with an unaccredited school -- then flag the degree with a disclaimer or an asterisk so it can be followed up with case-by-case evaluation as appropriate. If accreditation "helps us with the sorting process" (as you put it) then flagging the unaccredited degrees will only improve the sorting efficiency. Right ?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2015
  8. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I actually don't disagree with this. I think Oregon has the right idea.

    In New York, you can sit for the bar exam with a non-ABA law degree as long as you've practiced law for five of the prior seven years in a jurisdiction where you are licensed (though not if the degree was earned via DL). Source

    Same rule for Pennsylvania. So yeah, the majority of states may not accept non-ABA law degrees, but honestly, being able to practice in three states which include the cities of New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco isn't really as limiting as you're making it out to be. Of course, here's a more comprehensive list that shows the issue isn't nearly as cut and dry as you'd like to make it.

    Honestly, I think it is a bit sketchy when ANYONE uses the post-nominal "JD" without being admitted to the bar. If you earn an M.D. from Harvard Medical but don't have a medical license, you can still get dinged by the state. Even though you have the degree, the M.D. implies that you are a practicing physician. I would argue it is the same for a lawyer. But I'm not sure how we got onto this topic, actually, I never said I disagreed with adding an "Oregon-style" qualification to unaccredited degrees. We were arguing degree "legitimacy."

    So, by extension, if I graduate from a bible school and a mainstream denomination ordains and then employs me, wouldn't that effectively serve as a form of "accreditation?"

    Again, I don't disagree with the Oregon-style "asterisk." I think it would resolve a lot of these issues. I think for people/employers who don't care, they will continue to not care. For the rest of us it would help people make an informed decision.

    What I don't understand is why, in this post, you've brought up the Oregon-style disclaimer multiple times as if I'd been arguing against it. I'm not pro-unrestricted use of unaccredited degrees. You drastically shifted course. Your argument yesterday was that unaccredited degrees were all illegitimate and the only means of measuring legitimacy is accreditation.

    Did you change your mind and seek a "compromise" on this Oregon thing or did you continue the conversation offline without me and are just now looping me back in?
  9. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Sidebar: I stated that non-licensed individuals have been disciplined by their respective states for using the post-nominal "M.D." despite it also being an academic degree. The individuals I cited for this, upon closer inspection, both had their licenses revoked and were disciplined further for , among other things, continuing to use the post-nominal M.D. on their websites and correspondence. It looks like the M.D. usage was an aggravating factor but not proximate cause of the additional discipline. I apologize for this error though I think it does raise some interesting questions about first professional degree usage when an individual lacks the associated license.
  10. JWC

    JWC New Member

  11. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Yes -- but maybe only within that denomination. It would potentially be a much more limited form of acceptance than, say, acceptance by a state licensing board.

    If you look back through the thread, you will find that I am responsible for eight previous posts (#14, 18, 20, 29, 38, 40, 43, and 67). Half of them (#14, 38, 43, and 67) explicitly mention the Oregon rules. This includes my very first post in this thread (#14) which states:

    I have not "shifted course" or "changed my mind" since Post #14. I entered this thread by explicitly endorsing an Oregon-style disclaimer, and have continued to do so since.

    Is that really what I said ? Take another look (it's post #43):

    I have not argued that accreditation is the only way to determine academic legitimacy -- I have argued that it is the only practical and objective way. I acknowledge that there may be legitimate unaccredited schools, and I also acknowledge that different people may have standards for identifying them.

    The problem is that those standards will vary from person to person (or from denomination to denomination, to use your example above). So they are subjective, of limited applicability, and ultimately less useful than standards based on USDoE-recognized accreditation.

    Given that there are no objective standards that can be applied, and given that the unaccredited degrees can be of very dubious academic quality (woof !), my solution is to simply flag unaccredited degrees and let potential reviewers make up their own minds. If they have their own subjective means of evaluating unaccredited degrees, then they are free to use them.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 20, 2015
  12. Pugbelly2

    Pugbelly2 Member

    I've heard differing reports as to the rigor of LBU doctorate courses. I plan to enroll soon, so I'll report back and let you know. I have a RA graduate degree, so I expect the rigor of doctorate courses to be greater than what I experienced at the prior level of study. If it is not, I would not continue studies irrespective of BBFI approval. While I have no problem at all with an unaccredited degree for my purposes, I still expect the work involved to be substantive.

    That said, I took undergraduate courses from numerous schools, unaccredited: Golden State School of Theology, RA: Bellevue University and Louisiana State University, and NA: Eugene Bible College (now New Hope), Global University (now RA), Briercrest Bible College, and Penn Foster. According to the "legitimate" argument, Bellevue and LSU should be the toughest in terms of rigor. They weren't. The toughest was Briercrest by a mile. Global, BU and Penn Foster were comparable to one another at second. GSST was third, and Eugene was the easiest. So much for the argument that RA = rigor. As I have been saying, RA is an indication of quality, not a guaranty of it. RA is a guaranty of acceptance, nothing more. I hate when people compare the rigor of unaccredited or nationally accredited schools to RA as if 1) all RA is the same and 2) all RA rigor is superior. It's simply not true.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 20, 2015
  13. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    In this case, the legitimacy of the school will be tied to the legitimacy of denomination, wouldn't it? I'm not sure about quality, but both St. Sophia and Christ The Savior seminaries (also, the distance learning Chicago Pastoral School, no matter how it pains me to endorse anything Russian) are legitimate simply by virtue of being duly authorized by competent hierarchs of one of the oldest Churches in the world. Of course, this is essentially my denomination, but I'd argue they are objectively legitimate. Baptists can comment on LBU's standing in their communities.
  14. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    All righty, Caldog, I think at this point it can be said that we aren't actually in disagreement on most of our key points.

    Unaccredited = Suspect, with some good/some bad. Flagging like in Oregon? Not a bad idea. You're right, you did mention that initially. I didn't address your statement about Oregon disclaimers because, as it seems common in these "point-by-point" refutations, I identified the parts I disagreed with so I could argue with them. Now I am realizing that we agree on the core idea and our argument is really just over semantics.

    What I will say to kind of clarify my position is that I'm not necessarily saying that we should presently rely on state approval. Rather, it is my preference that we should be able to rely on state approval. You're right. At present, we cannot rely solely on state approval to determine a degree's legitimacy. I think that is a problem. I find it a bit ridiculous that we cannot trust the states to regulate institutions of higher education operating within their boundaries while expecting them to manage their own institutions of higher education as well as a network of primary and secondary schools. Instead, we are essentially forced to rely on a series of private organizations to do the government's job.

    That doesn't mean I think that accreditors are bad at that job. Or even that I think this could ever change. It is a general complaint about the state of U.S. education.

    The New York Board of Regents, the same entity which registers (state approval) all educational institutions in the state, also provides institutional accreditation and is recognized as an accrediting agency by the USDOE. Presumably, if New York absolutely sucked at vetting colleges, the USDOE would rescind that recognition. I suppose, in my dream world, every state would seek that level of approval and maybe we could replace "state approved" and "regionally accredited" altogether with institutions merely accredited by their state's education department (which, in turn, would be recognized by the DOE as an accrediting body). Or maybe "state accreditation" could be a pre-requisite for regional accreditation like "state approval" is now. Or maybe programmatic accreditation would matter more. Or maybe there is no perfect system and, flawed as this system is, it is the best of our options. Still, my preference is always toward the government running education, not private entities.

    Then there exists the possibility of quality unaccredited schools just not issuing academic degrees. I don't think anyone here would be arguing against LBU or Trinity if Trinity only awarded diplomas, certificates and ordinations. So maybe if the Neuhaus College of the Bible is established, we will go that route to help avoid the whole question of legitimacy.
  15. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    If what these institutions offered was a diploma or certificate, I would have no problem at all with what they do.
  16. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I doubt anyone would. There's a reason why all of these discussions focus on academic degrees and not career certificates, diplomas etc. The only time those enter the debate is when discussing if they will transfer to academic degree programs.
  17. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Sure. OTOH, MDiv is pretty much standard vocational credential for ministers in this country (if a person already has bachelor's), so I don't have a big problem with small denominational schools offering these. If training is adequate, that is.
  18. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I think the key there is that the "Master of Divinity" is a very clearly religious degree. It has no direct secular application.

    But some of these schools religious, accredited or otherwise, are offering degrees that sort of imply they are more academic than religious. For example, at Trinity, I can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Counseling. So I can see why people have an issue with places like Trinity awarding a B.A. because it purports to be awarding the same degree as an accredited institution.

    If they only awarded a Bachelor of Divinity I think, again, it would be less of an issue since secular schools don't award that degree and the nature of the degree is very clearly religious.

    If I get an M.A. from LBU and go around town using the post-nominals "M.A." you have no idea that is a religious degree. It could be a degree in literature, leadership, counseling, psychology, history etc. It's different than holding yourself out as someone with an M.Div.

    Now, I'm not inside RAM's head here, but I imagine that people who have a Ph.D. might look at Trinity's Ph.D. programs in a similar light. If I am "Joseph Neuhaus, Ph.D." you don't know if I'm a theologian or a physicist. If Trinity were just to stick with the Divinity theme, you know exactly what "Joseph Neuhaus, D.D." is claiming to be an expert in.

    So the waters already get muddied when people award a "secular" degree for a religious purpose. Add a lack of accreditation to that mix and I can see why people get a bit disturbed by the situation.
  19. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    If the school is unaccredited, it would still eliminate much confusion if the end product was called something other than a degree. Unfortunately, the general public knows little about the nuances among degrees, especially in the discipline of theology/religion/ministry/etc. Totally eliminating any reference to a "degree" would, imho, be the best approach.
  20. Pugbelly2

    Pugbelly2 Member

    We'll have to agree to disagree. I might be persuaded to your line of thinking of all accredited schools were more equal in their rigor, requirements, learning outcomes, etc. However, they are not. As it stands today, there are HUGE differences in quality between accredited schools just there are unaccredited schools, so I can't make the same distinctions you can without feeling like an elitist. All accredited schools will issue degrees and all unaccredited schools can issue certificates or diplomas? No thanks. Comes off as smug and dismissive. It's also lazy. If the matter is important enough to me, I'll do the leg work, investigate the school in question, then make a determination.

    For the most part, if someone introduces themselves to me as "Dr. So and So," I will address them as such. I would not feel injured in any way by addressing someone using this title even if I believed his/her degree was earned from a substandard institution. I'm secure enough in myself not to be threatened or bothered in any way. I would also address someone as "Coach" irrespective of what they coached or on what level. Whether it's the worst little league coach in America or a Hall of Fame, NFL coach like Joe Gibbs, they're both coach. The same would hold true for the title of Professor. Whether you are a Professor of Mathematics at an Ivy League School or a Professor of Basket Weaving at some unaccredited school run out of a strip mall, I will always address you as Professor if you so choose.

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