Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Case of the False Credentials (and the Idiot Administrator)

Curmiphiles of a certain age will remember well the phrase, “it’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up,” one of the incessantly-intoned mantras of the Watergate era. I was reminded of that line today in reading about recent events at Birch Vocational Academy in Providence, RI. Birch is the district’s school for children with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities.

Nancy Stevenin: Liar and Cheat
After a scandal involving Birch students’ being forced to work essentially as prison labor, the district needed to turn things around. Part of the solution was to have been the hiring of Nancy Stevenin as Supervisor of Transition and Community Development (whatever the hell that means). Trouble is, the job requires a college degree and Stevenin doesn’t have one. Or, rather, she purchased hers online from a whorehouse diploma mill called Ashley University. Ashley University has no physical campus, no accreditation, presumably no actual faculty who can be contacted, and it’s kind of significant that their website is a dot-com instead of a dot-edu, don’t you think? But they’ll sell you a PhD for $648 (including tax, apparently) with no apparent concern for anything other than whether your credit card company approves payment. One supposes PhDs are pricier than other degrees; Stevenin probably didn’t have to pay that much for a Bachelor’s. And, after all, they’ll even backdate the degree for you, so they’re a model of customer service, right?

Everyone who works for Ashley is dishonest, and every one of their… erm… clients is worse. This is, after all, not Monsters U., Hogwarts, or the North American School of the Artsy and Somewhat Musically Inclined, who sent me a couple of brochures twenty-odd years ago for t-shirts, mugs, and the like. No, Ashley University is nothing more or less than a scam and a fraud: they really want unsuspecting people—like the folks in Providence—to believe in their legitimacy as an education institution.

Stevenin got the job, which pays roughly 50% more than Curmie makes with well over 20 years’ experience and an honest-to-God PhD from an actual university, because although nobody on the hiring committee had presumably ever heard of Ashley University, nobody checked to see if it was…you know… real. That’s not the quintessence of good hiring practices, but it’s at least understandable: no one can possibly know every college in the country, and even HR folks can be a little too trusting at times. So far in the story, then, there’s nothing to precipitate a Curmie Award nomination. Dishonest people exist. Other dishonest people will help them. And sometimes one of them gets away with something.

Susan Lusi: Dumber than a Sack of Hammers
Ah. But we’re not done. Having found out about Stevenin’s dishonesty, you see, Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi described her underling’s perfidy as “a lapse in judgment,” and proceeded to… wait for it… “put Miss Stevenin on a corrective action plan immediately in February when we discovered that.” A corrective action plan? How about firing her sorry ass? No, because you see “Lusi said Stevenin is getting results at Birch and has an impressive resume.” WHAT??? First off, she’d only been on the job a couple of months when the school discovered the deception, so it’s unlikely she’d really done much yet. More to the point—her “impressive resume” has already been proven to be fraudulent. No one ought to give a single solitary damn about what it might contain in the way of alleged credentials.

The problem, in real terms, isn’t that Stevenin is a liar and a cheat. It isn’t that whoever is behind “Ashley University” makes Chris Christie look ethical by comparison. It isn’t even that Stevenin was hired for a job for which she lacked appropriate credentials. It’s that she wasn’t promptly shown the door when the revelations of her mendacity became known. The problem, in other words, is that Susan Lusi is a card-carrying moron.

Frighteningly enough, it gets worse. When parents, teachers and other sensible people who have a legitimate stake in the matter—paying Lusi’s $190+K salary, for example—made the obvious point (well, obvious to anyone with either a whiff of ethical sensibility or the brains of a kumquat) that allowing Stevenin to continue would be to condone cheating, Lusi replied, “No, I don't think so at all. If cheating was OK we would not have put her on the immediate corrective action plan.” Meanwhile, the cheater in question continues in her current job and salary but is responsible only for paying her own tuition to an accredited university to actually earn the degree she lied about already having. Genius.

Lusi further embarrassed herself, her district, and her profession, in response to a statement by Maribeth Calibro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union. Calibro noted that her members, who actually have university degrees and are making only a fraction of Stevenin’s salary, are “extremely disconcerted” and “very angry” about the situation, as well they should be. TV reporter Katie Davis (who appears to be an actual journalist) suggested to Lusi that it must be “frustrating” to teachers making “$30,000 or $40,000 a year with a bachelor's degree, [seeing] an administrator making $94,000 a year without.”

Lusi, of course, seizes on the seemingly no-longer-required credential rather than the integrity issue and presents an argument truly remarkable for its inanity. Remember, it was presumably Lusi who either insisted on or at the very least signed off on the bachelor’s degree requirement to begin with. And yet we get: “I guess people may get frustrated that Bill Gates doesn't have a degree. But he's judged on the merits of his work.” Actually, of course, there’s no stated requirement that Bill Gates needs a degree, he has never to my knowledge purported to have one, and (of course) he’s a particularly horrible example for any argument involving education, since his hypocrisy, arrogance, and pseudo-philanthropy have probably done more harm to the education system in this country than anyone whose name isn’t Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan.

The real issue, of course, is skirted by Lusi. If you want to say that the job doesn’t require a degree, that’s OK with me. But there remain two unresolved issues. First, it’s not the teachers who need a degree who are the real victims of Stevenin’s dishonesty and Lusi’s ineptitude, although they certainly have a right to be upset. But what of the other applicants for Stevenin’s job—the ones who actually had the required credentials? Shouldn’t they be a little peeved that not only did the job go to someone without the necessary degree, but that Lusi did nothing to remedy the situation when the fraud was discovered? If I were Ms. Lusi, I might just be expecting a call from someone’s lawyer in the near future.

The most important point, of course, is that Stevenin simply can’t be trusted… nor can Lusi, albeit in a different way. Curmie may be old-fashioned, but lying on a résumé is about the surest way to prove to me that you’re fundamentally incapable of functioning in an ethical universe.

Be it noted, there are sometimes judgment calls. For example, had Stevenin de facto passed the last class required for a real degree but the BS (could have been a BA, I suppose, but Stevenin and “BS” seem to go so well together) hadn’t officially been awarded yet at the time she applied… maybe. If she had fulfilled the job description of an assistant director of a project without ever having officially been given that title… maybe. If her undergrad college didn’t have minors (Curmie’s didn’t), but she’d done enough coursework in a discipline to have qualified for a minor at a different university… no, but at least there’s a case.

But this little escapade? There is literally no way to spin this as anything but an absolutely intentional deception without the slightest bit of actual justification. Ashley University is a fraud. Stevenin knows it to be a fraud, and is apparently utterly unrepentant (or she’d have resigned, thereby defusing the situation considerably). Stevenin should, of course, be fired. “Ashley University” should be roundly denounced as the deceitful enterprise it is (if not investigated for criminal misrepresentation). But the fact is that dishonest people will behave dishonestly, regardless of occupation. The greater threat to education per se, and therefore the Curmie nominee du jour, is Susan Lusi, whose transcendent incompetence is an inspiration to idiots everywhere.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good news! Stevenin resigned. Bad news...someone got all smart and decided it's best that credentials are checked in the future. That's just great. I paid over $600 for my Ph.D so I could get a good job in that district while working on my real Ph.D. You can't change the rules in the middle of the game! Someone from that district is going to have to reimburse my $600.