Last year, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office decided to sue an institution its officials called a “diploma mill,” after Colby Nolan, their undercover student, got his master’s degree in business administration. The fact that Colby is a pet cat bolstered their case.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday against another institution the attorney general said is a diploma mill, the office is going for the University of Berkley’s jugular, and it isn’t bothering with pet tricks.
The lawsuit, filed in local court in Erie County, where the business is based, charged a former New Mexico state trooper, Dennis Globosky, 50, with selling thousands of fake degrees in the United States and abroad, since the late 1990s, and operating under a bogus accreditation institution. Along with the complaint, the attorney general asked the court to immediately shut down Berkley’s operations. After several hours of review Wednesday morning, the judge granted the request.
"Defendants knew their worthless, fraudulent degrees, phony accreditation, bogus faculty, falsely portrayed physical facilities … would be used to mislead employers," the complaint reads.
"We want to shut him down entirely and stop him from ever doing business in Pennsylvania again,” said Barbara Petito, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, Tom Corbett. The complaint says that Globosky claims to have awarded 12,500 degrees, which would put his revenues at more than $34 million. Petito said that Globosky could face fines of up to $3,000 for each violation of state consumer protection and education laws, including misrepresenting services, affiliations or accreditations. According to the complaint, Globosky has an impressive resume of such violations, starting with his title: "Dr." Globosky’s final recognized degree is from an Erie County high school.
Globosky’s lawyer did not return calls for comment Thursday. In a letter to the state Education Department in April, Globosky said that Berkley was not conducting business in Pennsylvania, and therefore is not violating state regulations. But the complaint said Berkley is doing business out of an office at West 21st St., in Erie.
According to the lawsuit, the list of infractions stretches from the use of a photograph of a Harvard building to make it appear that Berkley has a campus, to descriptions of faculty members whom the attorney general says do not exist. On one of its Web sites, Casey, an animated woman, informs prospectives “you may already have your degree and not know it.” Berkley offers the opportunity to purchase that degree for between $2,065 and $4,995. It claims the diploma will then be recognized by institutions including the University of Cambridge, in England, and Pennsylvania State University.
In fact, there does seem to be some relationship between certain courses at Berkley and Penn State courses, but not quite the one Berkley implies. For example, the course description of Berkley’s course in Inner City Geography is nearly identical to the description in the online bulletin of Penn State’s undergraduate Urban Geography course.
As part of the doctoral program in mass communication at Berkley, a student must take Ethics and Issues in Mass Communications, which has the same description as an undergraduate course of the same name at Winthrop University, in South Carolina. Health Care Finance and Economics, a class required for a Ph.D. from Berkley in health care administration, is another course with a description identical to an undergraduate Penn State class of the same name.
“It’s not uncommon that you see degree mills copy material from reputable places,” said George Gollin, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has made a hobby of following diploma mills for years. “It really gets dangerous for the public when you give away degrees in things like health care.”
In some cases in the past, states filed criminal charges against people with invalid degrees who pose a threat, such as public health workers. In its investigation of Berkley, the attorney general’s office found cause for concern. Petito said the office discovered an assistant police chief who had used a Berkley degree to climb the ladder, and an expert witness in structural engineering who had used his Berkley Ph.D. as proof of his expertise. The head of a company that employed the expert had, according to news reports, mistakenly assumed that Berkley was the University of California at Berkeley.
"That’s really dangerous, that [engineer] should be in the slammer," Gollin said. He noted that poorly trained structural engineers have been responsible for building collapses in the past. Gollin thought that a lot of people who use Berkley degrees probably know that the degrees aren’t up to snuff.
However, he felt many students may have been deceived, because the course descriptions sound official, the diplomas look real, and the receptionist at Berkley’s Office of Student Affairs refers to the institution’s accreditation by the “New Millennium Accrediting Partnership For Educators Worldwide." According to the lawsuit, Globosky also founded and owns “N.A.P.F.E.W,” an acronym he said stood for “National Association of Police, Firefighters and Emergency Workers” in his original application for a post office box in Washington.
What Gollin found most distasteful was that Berkley has a special section catering to military personnel. “Soldiers can really use [distance learning] degrees for promotions,” he said. “Selling these people who are getting shot at bogus degrees is disgusting.”