Studying the Fine Art of Bullshitting
A few years ago, a friend and business associate proudly announced to me that he had completed his Doctorate in Musical Theory and from that point onward would prefer to be addressed as “Doctor” in light of his accomplishment. Those better acquainted could presumably call him “Doc.”
This was very suspect as I had known this individual for some time, and had not known him to be the scholarly type. Indeed, he was the partying type, and during his off-hours I had never once seen him crack a book much less fret over an upcoming thesis. When not at work he was drinking. I know this because I was usually sitting across from him at the bar.
When pressed, he insisted that he indeed was a Doctor of Musical Theory and had a diploma that said so. When I asked where the diploma came from he told me “The University of Wexford at Zurich.”
The fact that the University of Wexford was located in Zurich was interesting to me. We did not live in Zurich. At the time we lived in Atlanta, and the commute would have been prohibitively expensive and logistically impossible as he had a full-time job. I asked how one gets a Doctorate in Musical Theory from a college 4,700 miles away and the answer was simple enough: correspondence.
At this point I was unable to stop asking questions. The good Doctor had dug himself a hole and it seemed that he would dig even deeper. After further interrogation, it came down to this: He received an unsolicited email about getting a diploma of his choosing. He paid several hundred dollars. After a brief telephone interview, the “University” staff felt that since he worked in the field of radio and music, his Doctorate was fully warranted. They processed his credit card and he was issued a PhD based on his “life and work experience.” Despite the absurdity, he continued to insist it was legitimate, that he was in fact a Doctor, and that the University of Wexford was an accredited institution.
At this point, I was intrigued. I had to learn more about the University of Wexford at Zurich. I did a little searching and eventually discovered their website, a brilliantly ambiguous work of art. Generic photographs of students were on every page. The “Alumni” page featured a vague statement along the lines of “Our graduates work in a variety of professions” surrounded by photos of people in various professions. The “Courses” page said the school offered a “diverse curriculum” for its students.
The fact that the website was void of any real details was curious enough. The site was registered in Romania with a telephone in Arizona, a fax machine in Massachusetts and a “campus” in Switzerland. All that was missing as far as warning signs go was a man standing atop my monitor screaming “Warning! Warning!”
A little more sleuthing, and I learned that the University was accredited by an organization of its own making. So they accredited themselves. This was pure gold.
I’m not sure if my friend sought to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Certainly if that was his intention the attempt was very half-hearted. He crumbled under questioning, sucked up to the fact he’d been swindled and fortunately never asked us to call him “Doctor” again.
Certainly he wasn’t the only “graduate” of this institution. I was sure there were shameless folks out there who would have no qualms about placing their University of Wexford degree on a resume. Best of all, in this Age of Information, all I’d have to do was a little Googling to find my answers. In short order I discovered dozens of folks bold, brash and dumb enough put a make-believe University on their resume and back it up with a straight face.
Even better, there were some real humdingers, like the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in California’s 21st District, David G. LaPere. He lost the election, but the candidate with a “Bachelor of Arts” in “Political Science” from the “University” did manage to take 26.3% of the vote. That’s just plain scary.
The organizational consulting firm, Character of Excellence features the employee profile of a “Doctor” who, it is revealed, “earned her doctorate in Computer Sciences based upon her work experience from the University of Wexford in 1999.” Really.
Ah, based upon her work experience. At least she kind of came clean. But the “University” she “graduated” from wasn’t even online in 1999. Their internet presence didn’t start until 2001. Interesting.
There’s a “psychic” and “guide to intoxicating bliss” with a “Masters” in “Psychotherapy” from the virtual university. The accomplished lady is also a “D.R.S.”, “Ms.D”and a “Reverend.” She likes titles, I suppose. From perusing the website I believe her degree was warranted based on her obvious life experience in the psychotherapy field. As a patient.
And there are more. So many more. A job hunter’s website had one individual with a double Masters: “Engineering Management” and “Management Information System.” Way to go! There was also a “Masters” in “Computer Science” on the same site. I wonder if they ever crossed virtual paths on their way to virtual class.
And there’s the gentleman who graduated Magna Cum Laude from the non-existent University’s non-existent MBA program. Certainly someone so intelligent should have a job by now.
The University of Wexford’s internet presence is no more. That alone should tell you something. Undoubtedly their academic jig was up, discovered by one person by too many, and the Romanians running the place moved on.
For certain, there’s another “accredited” institution of higher learning out there, issuing degrees like New York City cops issue parking tickets. It makes you wonder who out there thinks they’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, laying claim to titles they purchased with a Visa card.
Fortunately, with a minimal amount of effort the answers are easy to come by. After all, discovering someone with a fraudulent “Doctorate” in “Physics” isn’t rocket science.