The official in charge of the Education Department's 10 regional offices received his doctorate from a correspondence school that Tennessee officials shut down last year after the state attorney general accused it of being a "diploma mill."
Robert Billings, who earns $67,200 a year as the department's director of regional liaison, refused to discuss his academic credentials with a reporter. But the resume he supplied the department when he was hired lists him as earning a PhD in 1963 from the Clarksville School of Theology in Clarksville, Tenn.
In 1975, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission ordered the Clarksville school to stop granting degrees because its programs didn't meet the commission's minimum requirements for a college. The school was among the first the commission ordered shut down under a 1974 law that required degree-granting institutions in the state to be licensed.
The school contended that its degrees were exempt from the law because of their religious nature, but a lower court described them as "false and misleading educational credentials," and the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the lower court's finding.
Billings, who was executive director of the Moral Majority before joining the government, told the Nashville Tennesseean in 1981 that his degree was "not as high a quality degree as I would have liked . . . ." But he said he would like to think "there's something that's inside a man more valuable than a college degree."
Because he is a political appointee, Billings is not required to meet any specific educational qualifications. However, it has been customary for top agency officials to hold the highest degrees in their fields, a department spokesman said.
The Clarksville school listed Billings as the top graduate in his class of nearly 100, state education officials said, even though he attended the school only one day to receive his diploma. He was awarded the degree after writing a thesis entitled "How to Build a Christian School." State officials said they didn't know how much Billings paid the school, whose founders have left the state.
Billings received his undergraduate and master's degrees from Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. While that conservative, Christian school is not accredited by South Carolina, its graduates are accepted by most accredited schools, according to state and school officials.
Department officials recently scuttled an edition of a monthly newsletter that goes to college students because it contained an editorial written by Billings that encouraged students to become "strong advocates of that which is holy and true" and not be afraid to praise God in public. CAPTION: Picture, ROBERT BILLINGS . . . political appointee makes $67,200