Pr. George's Schools Chief's PhD Under Scrutiny

Prince George's School Superintendent John E. Deasy received a doctorate from the University of Louisville, where he completed only nine credit hours.
Prince George's School Superintendent John E. Deasy received a doctorate from the University of Louisville, where he completed only nine credit hours. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008

The University of Louisville announced yesterday that it will investigate the awarding of a doctorate to John E. Deasy, now superintendent of Prince George's County schools, after reports that he completed his graduate work there on an unusually fast track in apparent departure from the university's standard practice.

Deasy, leader of the 130,000-student system since 2006, was awarded a doctorate of philosophy in education in May 2004 after completing nine credit hours of work at the university -- equivalent to one semester -- in addition to 77 credit hours he earned from other schools. Deasy also wrote a 184-page dissertation.

At issue is the relatively small number of credit hours Deasy earned from the University of Louisville and what kind of exception to university policy might have been made to award his degree.

The university's graduate handbook indicates that doctoral students typically complete their work in a minimum of three years, including at least one year -- 18 credit hours -- in full-time residency.

This week, Kentucky media reported on questions raised about the awarding of Deasy's doctorate as part of news coverage of a federal investigation centered on Robert Felner, the former dean of the university's College of Education and Human Development. Felner was also Deasy's academic adviser and chairman of his dissertation committee.

The university president, James Ramsey, announced the appointment of a six-member committee to review the awarding of Deasy's degree. "Now we are dealing with an issue that strikes at the heart of our institutional integrity," Ramsey said in a statement, adding: "If someone received a degree he did not earn, we would have no choice but to recommend rescinding that degree."

Late yesterday, Deasy said: "If the university made errors in the awarding of the degree, I do hope they rescind it. My responsibility is to do everything I was advised and told to do. If I was advised wrong and given wrong information, the university needs to take responsibility for that. I certainly would not want anything unearned."

Doctorates are valuable credentials in the field of education leadership. Two years after getting his degree, Deasy jumped from a small Southern California school district to take over Maryland's second-largest school system, receiving a $250,000 annual starting salary. He pledged to raise student achievement and bring stability to a school system that had experienced leadership turmoil.

At Louisville, records show that Deasy earned nine hours of credit for a research course in spring 2004. Yesterday, Deasy allowed The Washington Post to review his academic records. They showed that he completed 77 credit hours of doctoral work at other institutions: 33 at the State University of New York at Albany, where he studied from 1991 to 1993; and 44 through a joint program operated by the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, from 1997 to 2003. While he was in the Rhode Island program, Deasy said, his adviser was Felner. Deasy said that when Felner moved to Louisville, Deasy followed him and the credits were transferred.

Felner is under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Kentucky for the alleged misappropriation of a $694,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, according to Kentucky media reports. Felner has not been charged with a crime.

Felner's attorney, Scott C. Cox, said Felner would not comment "on this case or anything surrounding his tenure at the University of Louisville."

Deasy's dissertation, titled "An Analysis of Leadership: Investigating Superintendent Leadership in Context Within a Standards-Based, Non-Optional Reform Initiative," examines the records of four Rhode Island superintendents.

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