A list of faculty at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene says faculty member Alan Williams has a Ph.D. from Glencullen University.
But Williams does not have a doctorate. And Glencullen University does not exist.
Southwestern Adventist and Williams acknowledge that Glencullen is not a real university. They say he is a victim of fraud. But experts on fake diplomas say that even though Williams did not commit a crime, he should have known Glencullen was a scam.
John Bear, a nationally recognized expert on fake diplomas, said he finds it difficult to believe that Williams thought the doctoral program was legitimate.
“Glencullen requires nothing,” Bear said. “Glencullen doesn’t exist. It’s run by this large operation in Romania. They use at least 25 different school names.”
Williams said he believed that he was participating in a real doctoral program.
“There was communication, very official communication. It wasn’t anything that you could be suspicious over,” Williams said. “They have a representative in the U.S., and I had a lot of communication with that person.”
He said, however, he cannot remember this person’s name nor the names of any of the faculty or advisers with which he interacted.
An Internet search for Glencullen University turns up a Web site with photos of smiling students and an address in Dublin, Ireland. The site’s address shows that it exists on a server in the United Kingdom, but the links about student services lead to an invalid domain notice.
Debbie Battin, a spokeswoman for Southwestern Adventist, a 1,000-student private university, said Williams was hired not because he said he had a doctoral degree but because of his teaching experience and master’s degree from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich.
Andrews University confirmed that Williams earned a master of science in software engineering in 1989.
Battin said that Williams was identified as “Dr. Alan Williams” and “Alan Williams, Ph.D.” on two pages of Southwestern Adventist’s Web site by accident. The second listing said Williams has his Ph.D. from Glencullen University. Battin said those listings will be removed.
Battin said that when Williams was hired as an associate professor of computer science in 2001, he told university officials that he did not expect to be identified as having a Ph.D. because Glencullen was not accredited.
Former FBI agent Allen Ezel said he came across Glencullen University repeatedly in the 1980s when he led the FBI’s effort to crack down on “diploma mills.”
“We have the book that these guys read from when they hustled you from the degree, and there’s no provision in there for papers and grades. It’s strictly, ‘Give me your money, here’s your degree,’ ” Ezel said. “It’s a scam.”
Daryl Thomas, Southwestern Adventist University’s computer science chairman, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Tom Benberg, associate executive director of the Atlanta-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, said he wrote to Southwestern Adventist president Donald Sahly Thursday, asking him to look into the matter and report back. Benberg said he has not had a response yet.
Southwestern Adventist University is accredited by SACS.
Battin said that Sahly’s secretary has not yet found any correspondence from Benberg.
David Linkletter, a program specialist at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said there’s nothing his agency can do because using a fake degree is not a crime in Texas.
Williams might be in legal trouble if he were in another state, however.
“In Oregon, this person would be committing both a crime and civil fraud. In Oregon this would be a misdemeanor,” said Alan Contreras, who heads Oregon’s Office of Degree Authorization. “I’m astonished that a university would miss something like that. I’m even more astonished that they don’t think they have to do anything about it.”
North Dakota, New Jersey and Illinois have also passed laws that penalize people who use fake degrees to advance their careers.
The federal government is starting to look into the issue. The General Accounting Office is investigating government employees with fake degrees.
GAO investigators bought a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in the name of Susan Collins, a U.S. senator from Maine, from the Internet in 2001.
Collins leads the Senate Government Affairs Committee, which is expected to conduct hearings on the fake degree industry in March or April.
Federal officials are concerned that people with fake degrees may be in sensitive positions for which they’re not qualified.
Last year, a Christian Science Monitor reporter bought a master’s degree in nuclear engineering for $159 as part of his research into the issue.
“The only way we will ever get a handle on this problem is by going after the users,” Contreras said. “If the suppliers are offering degrees in little islands in the Caribbean or countries in Africa, which is where the trend is, there’s nothing we can do about that.”