It was, in a sense, just a simple matter of degrees.
But for 75 would-be graduates at Benjamin Franklin University, the commuter business school in downtown Washington, it was more than a little serious. After years of hard work, studying and examinations, the school told them that come graduation day, June 26, there might not be any diplomas.
Now, as it turns out, the 75 will graduate after all -- but without the degrees they thought they had earned.
It seems the 73-year-old school thinks it should be able to award bachelor of science degrees in public accounting, managerial accounting and management information systems as well as master's degrees in business administration.
But the District of Columbia's Educational Institution Licensure Commission, which oversees higher education in the city, is not so sure and thus a matter of degrees has turned into a battle of degrees.
The university for several years has awarded bachelor's and master's degrees in commercial science -- known in academic jargon as BCS and MCS degrees. Last fall the 700-student university printed new catalogs advertising that it now was offering B.S. and MBA degrees.
The change was made, said Harold W. Goldblatt, the school's dean of faculty, because some alumni and students felt that the B.S. and MBA designations were understood by more people in the business world than the BCS and MCS degrees the school had been giving.
"We were trying to update ourselves," said Clephane A. Kennedy, the 83-year-old president of Benjamin Franklin and widow of the school's founder and only other president, John T. Kennedy.
The only problem was that the school did not first get the approval for the degree change from the city commission.
Meanwhile, the school's city license to grant the BCS and MCS degrees expired last Dec. 31. The school asked for a license extension on Dec. 28, but the application was filed too late to be acted on before the end of the year.Shortly thereafter, the commission also rejected the school's bid to change the designations to B.S. and MBA.
Nothing more happened, Goldblatt said, until six weeks ago when the commission told the school that it could no longer grant any degrees because of the license expiration, an action he said "sent everyone into a tizzy" at the school.
As a result, Kennedy was forced to send a two-page letter to student body members informing them of the snafus and trying to reassure the prospective graduates that the school still hoped to retain its degree-granting authority in time for graduation.
The school's authority to grant BCS and MCS degrees eventually was renewed in late May, so the graduation will proceed as scheduled.
Goldblatt said that about 20 graduates-to-be complained about the degrees they will receive, but the school said eventually it hopes to give B.S. and MBA degrees to the new graduates, assuming it wins approval from the commission for the B.S. and MBA designations based on the existing curriculum.
Kennedy and Goldblatt said they believe Benjamin Franklin's current courses match those given at other schools granting B.S. and MBA degrees.
Nathaniel Sims, executive director of the licensure commission, said he believes the degrees are different. He said that Benjamin Franklin will be required to resubmit an application for the degree changes and then a three-member team of business educators will have to study the school's programs to determine what their proper designation should be.
While the dispute lingers, the school has recalled seven MBA degrees and several B.S. degrees it granted late last year and stopped distribution of its catalog advertising those degrees.
"Let's don't kid ourselves," Goldblatt Lamented, "we find ourselves in an embarrassing situation."