There’s no question: He took the easy way out

Coda

GREG BEAN

I remember graduate school with a certain degree of awe and loathing — in the same way you remember the pain of a major surgery, years after the scars have healed.

 

Even at the small state college I was attending, obtaining an advanced degree was no walk in the park. First, grad students were expected to maintain and pass a full load of courses, and those courses sometimes involved reading several books a week. In addition, there were long academic papers to write and tests to prepare for. As graduate assistants, we were also expected to teach two freshman classes, and that involved not only lesson planning but also grading student papers and tests. We were also expected to be preparing to write and defend our thesis, as well as preparing for the comprehensive exams given by the department before they’d hand anyone a sheepskin.

Those comprehensive exams were designed by academic sadists. In our department, they came in three parts. One part was a long essay answer section with questions posed by faculty members from your particular field of study. Your answers had to show that you not only knew the answer to the question, but that you had read a significant amount of outside literary criticism on the subject to support your answer. It wasn’t enough to have read the book in question; you also were expected to have read lots of books about the book.

The second section was the explication of a poem, and it took most of a year to figure out what "explication" meant, and another year to figure out how to do it.

The third part of the exam was the most devilish of all, and involved a trivia test that pulled random, arcane questions from every course on our transcripts, and several questions from the literary criticism written about the various authors we had studied.

Then came the thesis. For that, you had to have a department-approved topic or project, a thesis adviser who worked with you all year and a thesis committee. The committee was made up of your adviser, one other faculty member from your department, and one faculty member from outside the department to keep things honest.

When you and your faculty adviser finally determined that your thesis was acceptable, you had to pay to have it typed and bound and make copies available to each member of your committee so that they could read it. Then, you had to defend your thesis to that committee, and then pass an oral comprehensive examination to go along with the written ones.

Oh, and there was also the part-time job I had to put bread on the table, because the miserly stipend from the teaching assistantship didn’t even pay the rent.

What I remember most about graduate school is being bone tired, physically and mentally.

We were warned that if we continued our education in hopes of earning a Ph.D., it would be even harder.

I didn’t think I had the sand to earn that degree, so I got a job in journalism and never looked back.

In over 30 years, I haven’t had a single occasion to use most of what I was forced to learn and memorize in graduate school. There just aren’t many instances where intricate knowledge of Jacobean City Comedy is useful in the real world.

But what I did take away from the experience were important lessons in selfdiscipline, organization and logical thinking, which have served me well.

And even though I never used my degree to help me earn a living, I always felt a certain pride that I had earned it. It wasn’t easy, but I earned it.

I think it’s that way for lots of people who earned advanced degrees, and that’s what really gets under our skin when we read about people like Freehold Regional High School District Superintendent James Wasser, who got his Ph.D. from what the state of Alabama said is a diploma mill. The "college" is now operating in Idaho.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and criticism about Wasser’s Ph.D. from Breyer State University, an institution that’s not accredited by anyone you’ve ever heard of, and that sometimes awards degrees for "life experience" and apparently gives extra credit if the degree candidate makes a significant monetary contribution to the institution.

But when you come right down to it, Wasser didn’t do anything that he could be fired for. He got a ginned-up diploma from a fly-by-night operation, but there was nothing in his contract that said he had to eventually earn a Ph.D.

And despite the fact that he wrote a dissertation in pursuit of that degree, there’s not much evidence he did earn one.

He got one and people call him Doctor Wasser, but it’s questionable that he earned it, at least in the way you earn an advanced degree from a real college, even a small state college in a state where sheep and antelope outnumber students by about 100 to 1.

He took the easy way out, for whatever reason, and that’s an insult to every person who received degrees the hard way, with work and sweat and sleepless nights.

Although more and more people are turning up in the work force with these questionable degrees, you have to wonder how they can look their colleagues in the eye — especially in a district like FRHSD, where a lot of the teachers and administrators under Wasser’s supervision earned their sheepskins the old-fashioned way.

At the very least, he ought to forgo the $2,500 annual raise that came as a result of his doctorate, and someone ought to ask the school board why they didn’t look into the place before they paid $2,900 for Wasser’s tuition.

That’s pretty expensive wallpaper, if you ask me.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.