Recently in his weekly political column my colleague Mike Jacobs described the political situation around funding for Dickinson State University like this:
DSU faced an existential threat this session. The reasons are tied to a scheme that enrolled Chinese students and granted them degrees without requiring anything other than money from them. This is best described as a “diploma mill.”
Jacobs is referring to a 2012 scandal at DSU which still hangs like a cloud over the school to this day.
DSU President Thomas Mitzel, in a letter to the editor of the Dickinson Press today signed by some of the school’s other administrators, rips Jacobs over that passage.
“Jacobs’ assertion that DSU took cash in exchange for degrees is grossly inaccurate,” he writes. “In fact, students from China attended DSU with the goal of obtaining a degree. They attended classes for a period of one to two years and completed coursework in which they were granted academic credit.”
“They were essentially transfer students who also had taken coursework at their home institutions in China,” he continues.
Unfortunately, it’s Mitzel not Jacobs who is being inaccurate.
Let’s address the primary accusation from Jacobs which is that DSU was being operated as a diploma mill years ago. Mitzel says that wasn’t happening, and yet “diploma mill” was the exact term used by journalists – including the Associated Press – to describe the situation.
Inside Higher Ed reported that DSU had been issuing “bogus degrees.”
Terms like “diploma mill” and “bogus degrees” were used because they were, and still are, entirely accurate.
A 2012 audit, which you can read below, found that DSU had been issuing diplomas to foreign students without evidence that the coursework needed to earn those diplomas had been completed. “Chinese DDJ & Top Up Students do not have the required amount of credits to earn a degree at DSU,” it states.
All universities require two things to issue a diploma. First, that you complete the requisite coursework. Second, that you pay what you owe. If a school is issuing diplomas without the first criteria being satisfied then they are, in fact, selling degrees for cash.
I wish this wasn’t true, but it is.
What’s more, the school was enrolling those students based on dummied up transcripts from China.
And not only were these foreign students getting diplomas without verification that they’d completed their coursework, they were being enrolled in the first place based on dummied up transcripts from China. From the audit which, again, you can read in full below:
Not only was DSU issuing diplomas without verification that the required coursework had been completed, but they were enrolling students based on phony transcripts.
It was so bad that per the audit some of these students didn’t even have a cumulative GPA:
I’m stunned that President Mitzel and his fellow administrators would try to revise history.
I understand that Mitzel, specifically, isn’t responsible for what happened in the past. He is trying to lead the school into a better future. I’m sure he’s frustrated when the diploma mill scandal is brought up.
Yet it happened. Pretending like it didn’t solves nothing. And the scandal is relevant today, because the school’s on-going financial problems no doubt have a great deal to do with declining enrollment caused by students who don’t necessarily want to be associated with a school that has, rightfully, been referred to as a diploma mill.
It Mitzel is going to insist on whitewashing Dickinson State’s ugly history then perhaps he isn’t the right person to lead the school into the future.