“Dr.” Okosun

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Theophilus Okosun was very lucky to get tenure at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in 2009; he doesn’t have a PhD. Well, not really. According to an article by Dave Newbart in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Okosun got his doctorate from the now-shuttered Pacific Western University in Los Angeles. In a 2004 report, the congressional agency then known as the U.S. General Accounting Office said the school was unaccredited, offered degrees for a fee and didn’t require any classroom instruction.

The report — titled “Diploma Mills Are Easily Created and Some Have Issued Bogus Degrees to Federal Employees at Government Expense” — said Pacific Western and two other schools issued “academic credits based on life experience and require no classroom instruction. … Instead, the schools market and require payment for degrees on a flat-fee basis.”

Okosun, a native of Nigeria and a professor of justice studies, apparently paid $2,595 for his degree, which he earned via correspondence over two years, a dramatically shorter period than it would normally take to earn a PhD.

For at least a decade Okosun was kind of open about it, too. Okosun apparently didn’t talk about having a fake PhD, but merely about not having one. NEIU apparently granted Okosun tenure under a special rule for “exceptional” teachers, who can be hired and promoted without terminal degrees. According to the Newbart article:

[NEIU] Provost Larry Frank wouldn’t say at what point in the tenure process the school learned the degree wasn’t valid. But the school allowed Okosun to pursue the lifetime employment contract — without a Ph.D. — based on his teaching skills. Okosun eventually demonstrated to faculty and administrators that his teaching is so “exceptional” that he is worthy of tenure, Frank said.

No doubt this is true, but colleagues and students still often refer to him as Dr. Okosun. Okosun, who apparently has two master’s degrees from a Belgian university, Catholic University of Leuven, was also occasionally listed in NEIU publications as Theophilus Okosun, PhD.

The whole thing seems a little fishy but ultimately it doesn’t seem to matter much. He teaches. He teaches well. He found a college that recognizes that. Who cares what tortured arguments NEIU goes through to justify giving him tenure?

Okosun is currently pursuing an online PhD at Nova Southeastern University, a private college in Broward County, Florida.

And as for the diploma mill? While Pacific Western University never achieved accreditation, in 1994 California decided that the for-profit school wasn’t even eligible for state approval. Pacific Western apparently sued and the state renewed the school’s license in 1996. The school moved to San Diego in 2006 and next year changed its name. Okosun’s alma mater is now called California Miramar University. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer