Wasser may have more to worry about than bad press

GREG BEAN Coda

 

James Wasser (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call him by the honorific Doctor), superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District, called me recently to complain about my column of Aug. 13, wherein I mocked the ginned-up doctoral degree he got from a suspect "university."

 

Regular readers of this column and of our newspaper the News Transcript know that Wasser has been in the news lately because of a degree he got from Breyer State University, a so-called institution of "higher learning" that sometimes awards degrees for "life experience" and apparently gives extra credit if the degree candidate makes a significant monetary contribution to the institution.

According to the state of Alabama, where the joint was running when Wasser did business with them, Breyer State University is nothing but a diploma mill. Alabama basically booted the university out of the state, and it is now operating (maybe) in Idaho.

At any rate, Wasser was mightily offended by my column, because I said he didn’t really earn a Ph.D. in any real sense. He said the column was unfair, in part because I didn’t talk to him beforehand so he could explain things.

Wasser said that, because of my unfair treatment, he would no longer cooperate with the News Transcript, whatever that means.

I told James Wasser two things. One, this column is my opinion, and not the opinion of the newspaper.

I said he took the easy way out, for whatever reason, and that’s an insult to every person who got their degrees the hard way, with work and sweat and sleepless nights. I said that after all this became public, I wondered how he could continue to look his colleagues in the eye.

I stand by the opinion I expressed in that column. I’m sorry that makes Wasser angry, but there you are.

I also explained to him that I didn’t need to speak with him before writing my opinion, because my opinion was based on information gathered for our newspapers by Rebecca Morton, a very fine reporter for the News Transcript. I certainly trust the factual nature of her reportage, and truth be told, his degree is what it is and we all know it. There’s nothing he could have said to me that would have put enough lipstick on that pig to illuminate its nature in a better light.

That column got a lot of positive response from readers, and the best responses came from people who are school administrators who actually earned a Ph.D. There were also a number of responses from people who thought I didn’t go hard enough on Wasser and let him off easy. Not surprisingly, I didn’t receive a single response from a reader who supports the FRHSD superintendent.

According to an editorial in this week’s News Transcript, and available online by clicking the News Transcript/Editorial button at www.gmnews.com, New Jersey Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) issued a press release last week calling for action to be taken on the practice of school administrators who "obtain degrees from unaccredited and questionable colleges and universities."

Codey is asking state Attorney General Anne Milgram and state Department of Education Commissioner Lucille Davy to investigate the practices surrounding tuition reimbursement for and raises made to school administrators who receive degrees from unaccredited online universities.

There are also citizen complaints before the state Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance of the New Jersey Department of Education, as well as a citizen complaint before the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

It seems as though James Wasser may have more to worry about in the coming weeks than my column.

• • •

Iknow this is a little out of the ordinary, but I got a press release this morning that on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m., the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation will host a lecture and discussion on the history of Zippo lighters, delivered by the historian from the Zippo Manufacturing Co. This program will be held at the Vietnam Era Educational Center in Holmdel, N.J. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

 

The Vietnam Era Educational Center is located adjacent to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial off the Garden State Parkway at Exit 116.

When I was growing up, my grandfather and father, both World War II veterans, told me there were two things a man needed to carry at all times. One was a good pocket knife (kept sharp, because there’s nothing as worthless as a dull knife); the other was a Zippo lighter.

The Zippo lighter is a marvel of simple American engineering. Small, uncomplicated and reliable, it opens with a satisfying click and lights every time, even in a strong breeze. You can get hundreds of lights from a single filling of lighter fluid, and the Zippo could actually save your life.

The lighters have been ubiquitous among servicemen since the Second World War, even nonsmokers, because you never know when you’ll need to light a fire or (if you remember the "Thin Man" movies, or almost anything with Bogart) a lady’s cigarette.

I still carry one today (an "antique" that was originally owned by my father and is almost 60 years old), and wouldn’t leave home without it. I may go to this presentation, if for no other reason than to get some positive, historical reinforcement for carrying a Zippo for my entire adult life.

• • • On a personal note, I’ve been on medical leave since Aug. 1, and I’d like to thank all the people who have written me to express their best wishes for my physical rehab process.

 

It’s going well, but in addition to therapy, I’ve been doing a lot of household stuff lately as the temporary at-home spouse. I learned about separating the laundry (don’t mix colors with whites, never put bleach in with red shirts and don’t put the wife’s delicates in the dryer on high) and how to make a mean lasagna. I can discuss the relative merits of cast iron vs. stainless steel vs. Teflon skillets, and I can tell you which farm market has the best produce and which butcher shop has the best steaks. I’ve also become a connoisseur of high-end vacuum cleaners and highthread count bedding.

If I start talking about cute shoes, however, I hope someone out there will pay a hit man to shoot me before I make a complete fool of myself.

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