Bland's Words Echo Kofi Annan's

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Prince George's County Council member Marilynn Bland recently touted the "academic journey" that has led her to receive a doctoral degree, including in her news release quotes from the dissertation she said she wrote.

However, the dissertation quotes in the release appear to be copied from a report by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan. The degree is the first honorary diploma given by the Springfield Christian College and Theological Seminary, an institution with ties to Bland's top aide that has no government-recognized accreditation.

Although the release notes that Bland's doctorate is of "Humane Letters," a designation often used in academia for honorary diplomas, its honorary status is not stated explicitly.

Bland (D-Clinton) did not comment for this report. David J. Billings III, Bland's chief of staff, said despite its honorary status, the doctorate is a "real degree." In an interview, he blamed a 17-year-old intern for writing a news release that attributed Annan's words to Bland.

Billings later wrote a letter saying "the attribution to the quote given by Council Member Bland was inadvertently omitted" from the release. Billings was not able to explain, however, how the intern made the mistake or why it had escaped the attention of her bosses, including Bland. Neither Billings nor the college would release the full dissertation for review.

The release said Bland has maintained "a long-term commitment to education, including her own as she advances her personal studies."

"This academic journey has been fueled by drive, dedication, determination and commitment to lifetime learning," Bland said in her release, adding that the degree gives her personal benefit as well as "an even greater ability for leadership and service."

Bland was elected in November to her second four-year term on the council. She served previously as vice chairman of the Prince George's Board of Education and is widely considered to be weighing her political future as term limits force her from the council in 2011.

Timothy Paul Baymon, president of the Springfield, Mass., religious college, said it chose to honor Bland on the recommendation of Billings, who has served on the school's board of trustees since its founding in 1996. In addition, Baymon said school officials were impressed by the dissertation Bland submitted in defense of an honorary degree.

"What moved us was her piece on poverty in the world and how she would address meeting and dealing with poverty around the world," Baymon said. "That primarily was the committee's major reason why we said this was a viable candidate, combined with what she has done in her life."

According to the news release and Billings, Bland's dissertation is titled "Freedom From Want the World Over." The release indicated that Bland wrote that "empowered women can be some of the most effective drivers of development." That line appears word for word in a 2005 report by Annan called "In Larger Freedom," in a chapter named "Freedom From Want."

The first 18 words of another quote in Bland's release are the same as those of another sentence in the Annan report. The remainder of Bland's sentence is similar to his language. (See accompanying box for text.)

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