Professor defends job despite degree doubts

Neil said he's confident in the veracity of his credentials.
& lt;a & gt;By JoANNE VIVIANO & lt;/a & gt;
YOUNGSTOWN -- Dr. William Bruce Neil said he is aware that the university that granted him advanced degrees in the mid-1990s had an illegitimate accreditation at the time.
Still, the Youngstown State University professor maintains that he earned his degrees, is qualified to teach YSU students and should be able to keep his job.
"I feel I am more than qualified to do the job," he said. "I've been here doing the job, and I think I'm doing a darn good one."
Neil, who this week attended a meeting of the YSU professional conduct committee investigating the validity of his degrees, said he carried the documents with him when he attended a closed-door session of the committee and held the degrees up for committee members to see.
LaSalle problems
Neil was granted his master's and doctorate degrees from the distance-learning LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., in 1994 and 1995. The president of the now-defunct university was found guilty of a federal fraud charge in 1996. Neil learned in 1997 that the president had set up a bogus accrediting agency. The school had sent him documents leading him to believe that accreditation was legitimate, he said.
Neil said he was informed by LaSalle officials in 1997 that they were reapplying for accreditation and that the degrees would still serve him well. Also, sometime around 1997, the federal government informed Neil that he could receive full remuneration for his tuition costs at LaSalle if he returned his degrees, he added.
He said he chose to keep his degrees and received a smaller refund.
Before the YSU issue, Neil's credentials also were questioned during his stint as chairman of the hotel and restaurant management department at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, Pa., when a 1997 article in a Wilkes-Barre newspaper questioned the advanced degrees.
While a 1996-1997 LCCC directory listed all Neil's degrees, a 1997-1998 directory omitted the LaSalle degrees.
In a March 30 letter to the professional conduct committee at YSU, Neil says he was set up here by another faculty member.]
Neil writes, "I believe ... that it was an act of retribution by a faculty member that was trying to discredit and embarrass me because of testimony I gave to the University during an investigation."
Sexual harassment statement
Neil, on March 12, gave a 26-page statement to YSU's director of equal opportunity and diversity corroborating the sexual harassment complaint of a female student. The student had accused another associate professor of human ecology, Robert Campbell, of sexual harassment.
Campbell has sent correspondence to university officials saying that Neil's statement came after the two professors had an argument and after Campbell had told another faculty member that there may be problems with Neil's degrees.
On his r & eacute;sum & eacute;, Neil reports that he earned his master's and doctoral degrees in hotel, restaurant and tourism management from LaSalle University but does not list the institution's address or city.
Although the master's degree was awarded in 1994, the Ph.D. was granted in 1995, the r & eacute;sum & eacute; says.
Sets of transcripts
Documents collected by the professional conduct committee reveal two sets of transcripts. The first, dated February 2002, shows Neil's earning both degrees Jan. 19, 1995. The second, dated March 1995, gives a Dec. 1, 1994, date for the master's degree.
The transcripts show that Neil was granted 124 credits toward his master's degree as "accepted by transfer or evaluation" and that he completed both degrees within six months.
Neil, hired as an associate professor in a tenure-track position, makes a $60,000 salary.
Jean Hassell, chairwoman of the human ecology department recommended to administrators in September 2001 that the position be filled at the lower-level assistant professor rank and a salary of $45,000. Based on a vote of the search committee, Hassell recommended Neil's hiring in July 2001. The hiring also was recommended by Dr. John Yemma, dean of Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, and approved by Provost Tony Atwater.
Verification question
Although search committee records show that members were assigned and completed reference checks, there is no indication of whether credentials were verified.
While university policy requires the human resources department to verify credentials, this March administrators shared e-mails in which they say the long-standing practice has been, instead, that such verification falls on the shoulders of the chairman or chairwoman of individual search committees.
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