Aug 11, 2008

25 students got no-good degrees from New Birth campus

Christopher Quinn
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
August 11, 2008

Twenty-five students who attended a satellite program of North Carolina Central University at Bishop Eddie Long's Lithonia megachurch earned bachelor's degrees that are not recognized by the school's accrediting agency.

A school spokeswoman said 39 other students were in the program earlier this year when it was shut down.

Long and the school, in Durham, started the satellite campus four years ago. They closed it in June after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools learned of it, reviewed the program and refused to sanction it. All extension programs have to be approved by SACS for degrees to be recognized.

Tom Benberg, chief of staff at the Commission on Colleges at SACS, said any degrees earned in the program at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, "would not be a degree from an accredited operation."

Long released a statement saying the church has partnered with various education programs to hold classes at the church.

"Regrettably, the university did not seek appropriate approvals at that time prior to launching the program. Last month [SACS] denied approval for NCCU to continue the program offerings at the New Birth site."

Long said the church and the school are continuing to work toward getting the program recognized by SACS so it can continue.

Long is a graduate of NCCU, a school trustee and announced a $1 million gift to university last week.

The University of North Carolina system, of which NCCU is part, learned of the program last week, according to a spokeswoman. The program should have been vetted by the system's board of governors.

Erskine Bowles, president the University of North Carolina system, said in a written statement, "I can think of no justifiable reason why the former NCCU leadership would have completely ignored and failed to abide by the appropriate approval process in creating this program. Such action is contrary to all university policy."
Bowles continued, "This circumstance is one of many problems Chancellor [Charlie] Nelms inherited when he arrived last year, and he has managed each of them professionally and effectively."
The university system and the staff at NCCU are investigating the situation and trying to answer the legal and academic questions caused by it, said Joni Worthington, vice president of communications at UNC.
The school and Long's church tried to get the program approved ex post facto, but SACS denied their request in June.

A SACS report said the program did not prove that faculty was qualified or that it had adequate library and learning resources. The program was unable to measure whether students were adequately leaning the subject matters and it did not provide an adequate financial statement from the program.

NCCU provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a list of 11 NCCU faculty members who taught in the program, all of whom had graduate degrees. However, four were listed as non-compliant because they had no graduate course work in the classes they were teaching. The university paid the teachers and their travel expenses.

The program also had adjunct faculty members from the Atlanta area.

The college offered business, criminal justice and hospitality degrees at New Birth. The program began under then-Chancellor JamesAmmons of NCCU, who left to become president of Florida A&M University in 2007.

Calls and an e-mail Monday morning to Ammons were not returned. Ammons was engaged in board meetings there, an A&M spokeswoman said.

A statement from Chancellor Nelms at NCCU denied responsibility for the program. A university spokeswoman referred questions to Kimberly Phifer-McGhee, director of distance education at NCCU.

Phifer-McGhee said she did not know why or how the program started, did not know how much the university paid to run the program, or why SACS was not notified of it.

"I was not part of the leadership," she said.

She said that faculty members had degrees, but may not have had course work to teach what they were teaching at the school.

The university is trying to work out a program that would allow current students to remain in school in good standing, she said.

Benberg said that SACS would not likely recognize the degrees already awarded.

"I am not aware that we have ever done that," he said.

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