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The following is a report outlining events making media headlines in Ireland during November 2005. Some readers will find some familiarity with this report and events in the US during the early 1990’s.

Accredited or Unaccredited?
By Martin Kiely, BCH, CI.

That was the question the Irish government were endeavoring to discover in dealing with difficulties surrounding the controversy over the academic credentials of one of its top advisers. The Irish Government's Chief Science Advisor, Mr. Barry McSweeney, became embroiled in controversy early November 2005 with the disclosure that his doctoral degree was from an unaccredited institution not recognized by the US Department of Education. His questionable PhD was obtained from a Californian institution called Pacific Western University (PWU), which is widely regarded as a cash-for-certification “diploma mill” and had been subject to many legal actions in the US. The Los Angeles-based 'university' which granted Mr. McSweeney his PhD in biotechnology and biochemistry in 1994 has no merit or standing in the academic world and has been the subject of numerous official investigations, state bans and media expose in its 28-year history.

In the state of Oregon, the Office of Degree Authorization (ODA) said of PWU: “Appears to be a diploma mill.” ODA has no evidence that this is a legitimate provider of postsecondary education meeting Oregon standards. PWU has been sued by Hawaii State for violating consumer protection laws. Sweden’s National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket) listed PWU in a report entitled, “Fake Universities and Bogus Degrees.” The University of Southern Queensland last year banned a lecturer from using the title “Dr” after media reported his PhD had been obtained from PWU. 

PhDs of the type obtained by Mr. McSweeney from the unaccredited PWU are usually obtained by US workers who pay up to $10,000 to give their CV a gloss of academic credibility. However, the investigative arm of US Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told a Senate committee last year that about 463 government employees had received bogus degrees from a list of phony colleges that included PWU. The GAO report prompted the agency, which conducts background checks on new federal staff, to crack down on the CV cheats who take a shortcut to the top. They undermine employees who work long and hard for legitimate degrees but who might get passed over for a raise or promotion. PWU's own website describes its PhD degree programme as useful “for gaining notoriety in your chosen field.”

One of Ireland’s most respected academics has stated that the continued controversy over the qualifications of the Irish government’s Chief Scientific Adviser will be an embarrassing setback for the entire scientific community. The source of the individual’s doctorate seriously damages the authority and credibility of Ireland’s first chief scientific adviser. He stated that it was not inconceivable that someone with the right track record could admirably address the challenges of the post. However, certain “key roles” required qualifications that were “beyond reproach,” if the person and the community represented are to retain the respect of peers and exercise authority. A country’s chief scientific adviser is an iconic figure amongst the national and international scientific community. It would be expected that the academic qualifications of the person holding such a position be beyond reproach.

In the Irish Universities, academics have spoken privately of their anger. Stating, “Anyone whose job involves advising ministers, representing their country around the world, or getting difficult to please groups such as scientists and industrialists to agree with each other, reputation is everything. The Advisers reputation has certainly been damaged. How sound can someone’s judgment be if they leave a ticking bomb in their record that is bound to explode at some point?”

US academics and experts following the affair immediately ridiculed the Irish Government’s decision not to fire the individual concerned. Degree mill opponent and University of Illinois physics professor George Gollin stated that Mr. McSweeney's use of a PWU degree was “really a disservice to Ireland” and he did not think it was “appropriate for the position of chief science adviser to be filled by a skilled manager who lacks the direct, personal experience of doing PhD and post-PhD level research in a laboratory science.” 

John Bear, a former FBI credentials consultant also rubbished claims by the Irish Government’s chief science adviser that PWU was legitimate when he received a PhD there. Mr. Bear who personally visited the PWU office twice in the 1990’s said: “In certainty I know that it was no different in 1994 than whenever you choose. Mr. McSweeney would be committing a criminal offence if he used the PWU doctorate in New Jersey or in a dozen other states in the US. He could, in theory, be fined or even jailed in many states.” PWU is listed as approved on two California state websites. But the former FBI consultant said there is a world of difference between “approval” and “accreditation”. Pacific Western University degrees were academically worthless and were not accredited.

Margaret Sottan a professor of English at George Washington University stated that, “Ireland deserves a person in the position of Chief Science Adviser where character and credentials are above reproach. Mr. McSweeney is not that person.”

At the time of compiling this report it has been revealed that a second government adviser and two top university lecturers have “worthless” degrees from the controversial institute. This disclosure is further embarrassment for the Irish government and the universities concerned.

Commenting on this professor Margaret Sottan stated, “I’m not surprised that Ireland having opened this particular can of worms, a good deal more is crawling out. This is indeed the pattern in such cases in the United States. We know diploma mills make a lot of money, hence, many people buy degrees from them. All it takes is some research on the part of government or the press to expose an impressive number of mid and high-level fraudulent degrees.”

With four prominent PWU graduates already revealed thoughts will now turn to the possibility of numerous cases popping up in other universities and institutions. In order to determine the real extent of this problem, in Ireland, a top university professor has called for an in-depth audit of the qualifications of Government appointees and academic staff in Irish universities.

The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) responsible for accreditation in Ireland, had assessed the “bona fides” of the Pacific Western University and found it “did not have accrediting powers within the US.” Following the NQAI findings, the government agreed that the position of Mr. McSweeney as Chief Scientific Adviser was untenable and consequently was removed from his position to one in another department.

Commenting on the outcome, former FBI credentials consultant John Bear, questioned the wisdom of giving Mr. McSweeney another job. “The question must, still be asked whether one wants a person in such a key position who either knowingly pursued and used a worthless doctorate, or was fooled by such a “university.” Either way (and I don’t see any middle ground), that is not the sort of person I would want progressing my sectoral priority areas. In other words… either there was dishonesty or a demonstrated inability to identify a spurious school.”

With such a distinguished record, observers have expressed surprise that Mr. McSweeney would add to his CV a PhD obtained within 12 months from a discredited organization like PWU. The earning of the title 'Doctor' and its use is no small issue in the world of academia. There is little respect for anyone who has obtained a doctorate from a “diploma mill” where a fee is paid for a distance-learning degree. In responding to media questions Mr. McSweeney told reporters that he accepts that he has been damaged by the controversy. “Without a doubt damage has been caused to me.”

How does this report relate to the practice of hypnotism?

The establishment of professional rapport with people in the media, government, and universities is critical for the acceptance of hypnotism as a profession. Since 1989, I have committed myself to the professional practice of hypnotism. I continuously work to promote public acceptance of hypnosis. Throughout 2005, I have been active in promoting the NGH Hypnotism Certification program and the prospect of having it accepted in an Irish third level college, as part of a scholarship program, is very real.

However, there are a few individuals in Ireland promoting themselves and their hypnosis services using the title of “Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy.” The use of such an unaccredited degree not only exploits the general public, who lack knowledge about educational requirements for such degrees, but it alienates academics who have received accredited degrees. Academics were especially vehement about the use of the doctorate in the above case in which training had not been acquired in the traditional way. Consider the embarrassment of having this kind of degree revealed by the media, the government, or accredited universities. Would the credibility of those who use such unaccredited hypnotherapy degrees be undermined? The answer is obvious.

Ireland is a relatively small country and should any of the individuals using an unaccredited “Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy” degree be subjected to the same media and government attention as described in this report, it would be detrimental, not only for the individual, but for the professional practice of hypnotism.

What is the National Guild of Hypnotists Position?

In “Legislative and Governmental Concerns,” March 2004 issue of The Journal of Hypnotism, the Rev. Scot Giles presents readers with the official position of the Guild. I have taken some extracts from the article, but I would strongly recommend that you read the article in its entirety. If you are a recent member of the Guild and don’t have a copy of the March 2004 Journal, I suggest that you contact the Guild.

“The Guild’s position is neutral. We neither endorse nor oppose these degrees provided they are used lawfully. However, if you get into trouble because you have used such a degree as part of your professional title, the Guild will not intervene to help you. You did not obtain the degree from us as the Guild is not a degree-granting institution. Therefore, if you need assistance, you must seek it from whatever school awarded you the degree.”

“When the Guild goes before a state legislature to oppose a law that would restrict your right to practice hypnotism we routinely get questions about people who are advertising services using such diplomas. Whether or not you think such degrees are valid, I can assure you that the lawmakers in your state government regard them with suspicion. Are you helping our profession, or hurting it, when you list such a degree after your name?”

In The Journal of Hypnotism June 2005, Dwight Damon wrote in his column “The President Speaks” how he experienced a brainstorm while addressing attendees at the Solid Gold Weekend in Las Vegas, February 2005. He describes how he could no longer tell attendees they needed to get the “Big Idea” that we would someday be recognized as a “separate and distinct profession”. “Why should we talk about what we expect to happen in the future instead of right here and now?”

Dwight announced from the platform that this year we need to establish the fact that hypnotism truly is a profession, practiced by professionals who can help normal everyday people with normal everyday problems. Dwight explained, “That other professionals have evolved and advanced, with their educational standards keeping pace, and ours is doing the same. The day is approaching when our educational standards will be part of the mainstream establishment, but in the meantime we are the pioneers – the people who are making it happen.

To gain greater public respect and trust we hypnotists need to become more professional and ethical in every way. If all of us in this profession develop in our minds the professional image that we wish to have others perceive and we do this consistently and persistently, we will start to think, act, and be more professional in what we do. We will then become recognized by others as being more professional.

If we as individual hypnotists are to represent a professional group deserving of professional recognition we must ensure that recognition in government, legislative and educational circles is honest and true.”

To conclude, it is my belief that the use of unaccredited hypnotherapy degrees will certainly damage the individual and the professional practice of hypnotism as a separate and distinct profession. If representatives from the national body responsible for accreditation in your country, or if the FBI credentials consultant John Bear came knocking on your door, would they find ‘a ticking bomb in your record’? If this bomb goes off would the damage to your reputation and professional practice be irreparable? Do you wish to gain notoriety as a hypnotist for the wrong reason?

As professional hypnotists our most important asset is reputation. It may have taken many years to establish a good professional reputation. It is up to us individually and collectively to uphold the highest standards of practice. Public trust and confidence should not be jeopardized by the use of unaccredited degrees.

The Irish Examiner Nov. 2005
The Irish Independent Nov. 2005
The Irish Times Nov. 2005
The Sunday Independent Nov. 2005
The Evening Herald Nov. 2005
The Journal of Hypnotism March 2004
The Journal of Hypnotism June 2005

Extracts from Irish Newspapers Nov 2005.
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