A candidate fundraiser invitation sent out in a mass email to hundreds of Prince George’s County residents is now raising questions over the legitimacy of two Maryland state legislator’s academic credentials.
State Del. Diana M. Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor last month emailed a flyer from her campaign account – FriendsofDianaFennell@gmail.com – inviting hundreds of people to a “Business Mixer Fundraiser” at the African American Museum in Brentwood on April 30, 2018. “Delegate Dr. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25), the president of the Maryland Black Caucus, would join Fennell as a “special guest.”
Fennell’s campaign fundraiser invitation lists Fennell and Barnes’ titles as “Delegate Dr. Diana M. Fennell” and “Delegate Dr. Darryl Barnes,” ostensibly meaning that both Maryland legislators earned or were awarded a legitimate doctor of philosophy degree – the highest academic degree awarded by universities in most countries.
A recipient who received Fennell’s emailed flyer forwarded the document to A Miner Detail questioning when Fennell and Barnes earned their doctorate degrees and from which academic institution.
A Miner Detail contacted Fennell via email on Tuesday, May 1, requesting information about where she received her listed doctorate degree (a PhD) and from which academic institution she received it.
Fennell responded to A Miner Detail’s email via text message on Tuesday morning, May 2:
A Miner Detail also contacted Del. Darryl Barnes via email and Facebook Messanger. Barnes confirmed that, like Fennell, he, too, “received an Honorary Doctorate from CICA International University & Seminary.”
The CICA International University and Seminary (The Canadian International Chaplaincy Association) website states that the institution was “incorporated in June 2012 in Houston, Texas and includes CICA International University and Seminary under its umbrella. The website says that “all CICA entities along with No Limits Ministries International have WOLMI as their governing body, done in order to train and develop Christian Ambassadors as ministers for the marketplace.”
Moreover, the “About Us” page on the institution’s website states that “through CICA-International University and Seminary we have aimed to further our earned degree programs in, Bachelor of Theology, Master of Theology, Master of Divinity in Advanced Christian Chaplain Ministry, and Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology, for ministers and chaplains worldwide.”
Further examining the website, A Miner Detail discovered that CICA International University & Seminary has no physical brick-and-mortar campus, and its mailing address is a United States Post Office box in Jamaica, New York. The website lists an office address in Valley Stream, New York.
A Miner Detail’s Editor in Chief Ryan Miner contacted the university at the number listed on its website – (347) 500-8085 – and left a message, requesting information about the university and its degree program. Miner also emailed the university through the university’s listed Gmail account. Approximately forty minutes later, Miner received a text message from a “Dr. Phinn,” requesting an immediate call back at the following number: (516) 513-9130.
Miner called Phinn at the provided number and requested permission to record the conversation. Phinn provided Miner his consent to be recorded.
Phinn said the university’s honorary doctorate degree is based on community service and has no academic course load. To receive an honorary doctorate from CICA-International, Phinn told Miner that an applicant must first be nominated and recommended by someone the university knows; the program does not require the candidate to produce any previous academic transcripts or participate in any academic exams. Phinn also told Miner that the university does not charge an application fee for an honorary doctorate degree but requests a financial donation of some sorts.
Later in the conversation, Phinn turned confrontational after Miner asked about Phinn’s own academic credentials and his role with the university.
Miner requested Phinn provide his full name and official position with the university for the record. He refused and said he wished to end the call. Phinn directed Miner to visit the university’s website to learn more about his role with the university and subsequently terminated the call.
Listen to Miner’s full interview with Phinn:
CICA-Internation’s website includes limited information about its faculty or the degrees and courses offered. The application process is online, requiring applicants to submit a “one-time non-refundable application fee of $100.00.” At the bottom of the online application, tuition costs are listed as a flat fee – $1,500.00 – based on the program selection, with an option to make payments over three installments. The website fails to list any information about financial aid.
Fennell and Barnes both shared with A Miner Detail that they received an “Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.”
According to CICA-International’s website, the “Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters is offered to persons who have made numerous contributions to society through philanthropic work. To apply to receive the degree, a candidate must submit a “biography, educational degree, photo and any other certifications or awards received.”
CICA-International’s website states that the university “is accredited by the Evangelical Order of Certified Pastoral Counselors of America (EOCPCA). The EOCPCA is a Federal Chartered organization with the Canadian Government and operating under Letters Patent.”
EOCPCA is “a chartered organization holding Federal Letters of Patent mandated by the Government of Canada. It is dedicated to promoting and certifying professional standards for psychotherapists and counselors practicing from a faith-based, biblical, Judeo-Christian perspective”. There is no mention on the EOCPCA’s site of accrediting universities or of CICA-International University.
CICA-International is not listed as being accredited by any legitimate accrediting organization in the United States, according to the United States Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Program.
A Miner Detail emailed Fennell a list of questions on May 15, requesting more information about her degree and whether she would characterize CICA-International’s degree as legitimate. Fennell has not responded to A Miner Detail’s questions.
A Miner Detail also contacted Barnes via Facebook Messenger on May 16 with the same questions emailed to Fennell. Barnes, like Fennell, was asked whether he believes his honorary doctorate degree from CICA-International is legitimate. Barnes thanked A Miner Detail “for pointing this out” and said he will “look further into it.” A Miner Detail offered Barnes the opportunity to respond on the record. He did not.
Fennell’s online bio says that she attended Greensville County High School in Emporia, Virginia as well as the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2004. It’s unclear whether Fennell has earned an undergraduate degree. Barnes’ online bio states that he attended High Point High School in Beltsville, Maryland as well as California State University-Long Beach (computer information systems).
A Miner Detail contacted a Maryland political scientist with a Ph.D. degree, requesting their take about someone who uses “Dr.” as part of their official title when, in fact, they were awarded an honorary doctorate degree.
“I’m not a fan. It belittles the work done to earn the title. It’s puffery. When an institution bestows that honor it’s understood that the title really only applies to interactions with the institution. Honorary degrees are an inexpensive way to get folks to associate with an institution. Anymore, they’re handed out like candy on Halloween. Let’s just say that it is not considered to be appropriate for a recipient of an honorary degree to use the title,” said the political scientist who requested not to be named for this article.
Additionally, the political scientist told A Miner Detail that they believe CICA International is a for-profit diploma mill that is not accredited by any legitimate US accrediting agency. “It appears to lack a true campus and it accepts applications for honorary degrees! No legitimate college accepts applications for honorary degrees! Check out their faculty bios!”
A Miner Detail will print Delegate Fennell and Barnes’ responses, unabridged, should they decide to respond.
Both Fennell and Barnes are running for re-election.