IUPUI admits unchecked credentials - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

13 Investigates

IUPUI admits unchecked credentials

IUPUI Communications Director Rich Schneider IUPUI Communications Director Rich Schneider
Tom Hulse Tom Hulse
Natalia Rekhter Natalia Rekhter
Robert Ray Hill Robert Ray Hill

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2007.

Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Two IUPUI employees are degree-lite after an investigation reveals their heavy hitting credentials don't measure up.

13 Investigates first uncovered the questionable degrees last month when experts warned of ties to suspected diploma mills.

Tom Hulse knew his B.S. in Fire Protection from Knightsbridge University had no U.S. standing. Now IUPUI Administrators are sure of it too.

National accrediting experts call Knighstbridge a diploma mill. For six years, the credential went unchecked at IUPUI.

"It's a policy that shouldn't have happened," said IUPUI Communications Director, Rich Schneider.

As Chief Engineer of Environmental Health and Safety, Hulse told 13 Investigates his degree encompassed years of independent training and consulting work.

Now trying to firewall its own reputation, the university has banned the use of the degree on its website.

"It's Indiana University's policy not to recognize it," explained Schneider.

Hulse remains on the job with no discipline. The University says he earned a B.A. in English from the now defunct Zion College in Kentucky, and that degree satisfies his job requirement.

IUPUI also investigated the highest credentials of lecturer Natalia Rekhter.

In her case, you could say the "doctor" is out.

"Her credential is master's, not Ph.D. The Ph.D. she received is from an institution that is not accredited in the United States," Schneider confirmed following the university's month-long investigation.

The dean at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs says Rekhter was hired in 2003 based on her master's from the University of Michigan. She reported a Ph.D a year later from WIDU - The World Information Distributed University in Belgium.

Top administrators from the Office of Degree Authorization in Oregon warned IU about the online school's validity.

Like Hulse, IUPUI banned Rekhter's posted Ph.D. credential, but says she should keep her job.

"[Natalia Rekhter] believes the degree she earned is legitimate, that she did the work, the dissertation, defending the dissertation that's required to get a Ph.D," Schneider told 13 Investigates.

Natalia Rekhter recommended comment from the U.S Vice President of WIDU, Robert Ray Hill. 13 Investigates contacted him in Erlanger, Kentucky, by phone.

"They are not traditional and they are not recognized. But that does not mean they're a diploma mill," Hill said defending the virtual university.

But Hill doesn't dispute letters sent to the U.S. Department of Education from the Belgian government dismissing WIDU's status. He says WIDU is trying to introduce a global four-tier education system that would include bachelor's, master's, Ph.D's even so-called "Grand" Ph.D.'s.

"People laugh and make fun of the grand Ph.D scheme, okay," he said, "It's not about purchasing degrees, it's about qualification under...using experiential learning."

He argues that work experience should equal classroom learning with increased savings.

"How do you explain putting a person through $110,000 worth of debt when he's trying to support his family?" he asked 13 Investigates.

13 Investigates asked Hill the benefit of a degree that is not accredited or recognized in the United States. Before he could respond the call was disconnected.

"We really need to have stronger laws on the books," said Jeff Weber, Indiana's Commissioner for Proprietary Education. Weber oversees for-profit schools. He has also reported diploma mill operations to officials out of state, including the one 13 Investigates highlighted back in 2004 in its series Degrees of Deception.

The IUPUI investigation is over, but the Attorney General could decide to launch its own.

As Weber understands it, "The law for Indiana pertains to false claim of a doctorate degree. It specifies for a degree to be valid. It has to have been issued from an institution that is properly accredited and recognized," he said.

In Natalia Rekhter's case, both accrediting experts and IUPUI say WIDU is not an accredited or recognized school in Belgium or the U.S.

IUPUI is adding a new system of credential checks for staff members who earn degrees after they are hired.

The Attorney General's office has yet to say whether it will take action against Natalia Rekhter.

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