Saturday, February 17, 2007

Doctoring the Record

Updated 11/2/2006

The chain of events that led to this essay is somewhat complicated, but it can, perhaps, be summed up in a somewhat concise manner. Robert Sungenis, president of Catholic Apologetics International, has been criticized by a former associate of CAI, Michael Forrest, for exhibiting a reflexively negative disposition towards the Jews, for relying on questionable sources in his essays on the Jews, and for presenting himself as an expert on Jewish issues, when his scholarship and research in these areas is demonstrably sub-standard. I approved of Forrest's project, and contributed a short statement to his work, as did several other former associates of CAI. In his subsequent attack on Forrest, Sungenis called my contribution to the project into question, and cast doubt on my motives, stating that I had only recently asked him to do an interview on his latest book, Galileo Was Wrong. I responded to this by explaining that I backed out of the interview after it was brought to my attention that 1) this book was part of Sungenis' doctoral dissertation, and 2) the university which awarded Sungenis' degree, Calamus International University, has the earmarks of a diploma mill - that is, a non-accredited university that awards degrees based on lowered standards, in exchange for money. Sungenis took issue with my assessment of CIU, and in a private email demanded a retraction and an apology.

These are the events that led to this essay, and it is now my joyless task to demonstrate why my assessment of CIU requires an admission from Sungenis, not an apology from me. I say this task is "joyless" because these sorts of things are never pleasant; neither are they necessary, under most circumstances, and that is why I was content to let several months pass without saying anything about Calamus University and Sungenis' degree. He has made this necessary, unfortunately, by implying in his attack on Forrest that my motives were suspect, and then demanding an apology for the way in which I responded to that challenge. There was no need to go down that road in the first place, and Sungenis could easily have interacted with Forrest's legitimate critique without turning it into a personal issue. He chose to make it personal, however, and by insisting on an apology from me instead of 1) ignoring my remarks about CIU (which were quite incidental), or 2) admitting that my assessment of CIU was correct, he has necessitated this response.

The recent controversy over Sungenis and the Jews has also necessitated this response. Part of Forrest's critique was intended to prove that Sungenis has a tendency to portray himself as an expert on practically any and every subject he chooses to address, even though he is not. It seems that this tendency is very much related to the issue of Sungenis' academic choices; it certainly appears as though his desire to be viewed as an expert has caused him to take the short path to obtaining academic credentials. If it can be shown that his doctoral degree is at least questionable, perhaps the natural conclusion can be drawn that Sungenis is not the expert he wishes everyone to believe him to be, and thus, once again, innocent bystanders will not be fooled into treating his writings on Jewish issues as Gospel truth.

So what are the facts? The web site for CIU explains it quite well:

Calamus Extension College Limited is a British educational company that was founded to provide distance tuition towards degrees validated by Calamus International University, an overseas university. Calamus Extension College Limited is also developing some British certificate and diploma qualifications of its own, and is active in the field of educational consulting. (source)

There are, according to university's web site, no actual classrooms or an actual campus on-site in the UK. That is because, again, according to the web site, "Calamus International University is not a UK university & therefore does not have UK accreditation or recognition by the Department of Education and Skills." (source) Further, "CIU is not a US university and so cannot come within the official US regional accreditation system." (ibid.) This is an important fact, as we will soon see.

A personal investigation revealed that Calamus is extremely accommodating to the needs of its students, waiving normally expected requirements and drastically lowering the fees beyond their already bargain-basement levels to receive a doctorate. As part of the research for this essay, an inquiry was sent to Calamus to find out a little about their pricing structures. It turns out that for about $3,000-$4,000, a doctoral degree can be had in approximately 18 months (but "early completion" is always possible); after a little bit of bargaining, Calamus was willing to lower even this price to about $2,000.

A quick look at the faculty at CIU and the degrees they offer reveals some interesting, if not amusing, bits of information. The "Acting Rector" and "Hon. Academic Dean" of CIU is Dr. Morris Berg, who holds a Ph.D. in Hypnotherapy. According to the site, Berg is the "Professor of Change Agent Studies and is Course Director for a number of areas including Hypnotherapy." (source) This is doubly interesting given the fact that Berg was Sungenis' academic advisor (cf. Sungenis' comments on point #7 here). More on that in a moment.

Also featured at CIU is Dr. David Brewster, a professor of counseling psychology; he is joined by Dr. Adrian Greaves, the university's associate professor of South African History, who, coincidentally, holds a Ph.D. from CIU itself. Then there is Dr. Greg A. Grove, professor of music, who is also working on a Ph.D. from CIU.

Dr. Tamlyn Llewellyn-Edwards is CIU's professor of homeopathy and energy therapies - yes, you read that correctly. The "Most Reverend Robert King" serves as the associate professor of mysticism and metaphysics, and holds an honorary doctorate in Sacred Theology from Holy Trinity Seminary. Dr. Sue Oliver, the associate professor of dance education, likewise holds a Ph.D. from Calamus International University.

A look at the CIU catalog reveals that Calamus features degrees in many interesting fields, including: Holistic Studies, Hypnotherapy, Stress Management, Depth Psychology (whatever that is), New Age Studies, Regression and Reincarnation Studies, Homeopathy and finally ... Ph.D studies in various fields.

Certain questions arise here. Sungenis' Ph.D. was earned for writing a dissertation on geocentrism, which would lead one to believe that his doctorate was in some sort of scientific field - yet CIU appears to have no qualified faculty in these areas. On the other hand, much of the dissertation also deals with the aspects of geocentrism that are addressed by Church History and dogma, and so it would make sense that Sungenis' Ph.D. is in Religious Studies (and CIU confirmed that it is) - yet, again, the closest CIU comes to this field is in "The Most Reverend Robert King," the professor of mysticism and metaphysics, whose degree in theology is only an honorary degree.

As mentioned above, Sungenis says that his academic advisor was Dr. Berg, the resident doctor of Hypnotherapy at CIU. A strange combination, to be sure, but even stranger still is that Sungenis says his supervising professor was Dr. Robert Bennett. Dr. Bennett holds a Ph.D., not in religion or theology, but in physics, from Stevens Institute of Technology. Not so coincidentally, the other name which appears on Sungenis' book, Galileo Was Wrong, is none other than the name of ... Dr. Robert Bennett. According to the manuscript, Bennett wrote "a detailed, technical and mathematical explanation for the various arguments for Geocenrism [sic]" in the first eleven chapters of the book (Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong, v). This is worth mentioning because it raises more questions: presumably one of the critical foundations of proving the geocentric view would involve the mathematics piece, but Sungenis did not write this chapter - Dr. Bennett did. How did the dissertation pass muster with CIU if 1) it did not include the meaty chapter supplying the mathematical proof, or 2) it did contain this chapter, but was written by Bennett? Would CIU award a degree for a jointly-written dissertation? The answer to this riddle will be supplied in a moment.

Normally, a doctoral candidate is required to give a defense of his dissertation; CIU does not require this except for special circumstances, according to their response to an inquiry, and Sungenis was not one of those exceptions. He was not required to defend his dissertation in order to obtain the degree. Additionally, doctoral candidates whose degrees require heavy research (CIU classifies Sungenis' degree as a "research-study degree") and the writing of a dissertation are usually required to also learn two modern foreign languages, such as French, German, Italian, etc., so that their primary research will include a broader range of materials than just what is available in the English language. The dissertation will often include several references to and quotes from original works in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and so forth. It would appear that CIU does not require this either; in the "Special Appreciation" section of Galileo Was Wrong, Sungenis thanks "Mario Dierksen [sic]" for "his translation of the German texts," and "Fr. Brian Harrison" for "his translation of the Italian texts."

These little facts are certainly strange, and raise questions about the standards imposed by CIU, but stranger still is what we find on Sungenis' own web site concerning his degree. In a January, 2006 Q&A, a reader asks, "has Mr. Sungenis become Dr. Sungenis?" Responding, Ben Douglass says, "I had the same question, and the answer is yes. The Maryvale Institute has accepted his thesis and is mailing him his doctorate." (source, emphasis added) Maryvale? Not quite. So how did this information end up on CAI's site? Did Sungenis tell Douglass that his degree was coming from Maryvale? Did Douglass just hear him wrong? Why is the bad information still up on the web site?

Further research into Calamus International University turned up a few other interesting facts. The fact that CIU is an unaccredited university that offers degrees in medical fields earned it recognition at Quackwatch, an Internet "guide to quackery, health fraud, and intelligent decisions." (source) CIU also made it onto the State of Michigan's list of non-accredited universities, which notes that "Degrees from these institutions will not be accepted by the Department of Civil Service as satisfying any educational requirements indicated on job specifications." (source) Another CIU professor, Tracie O'Keefe, was taken to task by Australia's The Sydney Morning Herald for making the dubious claim to be a qualified therapist; the following remarks are worth noting:

As for her professorship, it is held at Calamus International University, an internet extension college. This "university" was founded in the British West Indies, where any business can call itself a university, says George Brown, a consultant to the Australian Universities Quality Agency.

"Calamus is not a recognised university within any jurisdiction of the world. These professorships have no meaning in the world of academia that we know."

Dr O'Keefe, who runs courses in various therapies, was offering credit towards degrees and doctorates at that same internet extension college until earlier this year, when the NSW Department of Education and Training asked her to stop. ("Be careful what the doctor may have ordered", The Sydney Morning Herald, September 19, 2005, source, emphasis added)

It would appear, then, that CIU is little more than a degree mill, just as I originally had said. In his own defense, Sungenis stated that "Calamus International University is not a 'degree mill'", adding that "The Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, which did an exhaustive study of over 300 institutions around the world, had no negative comments about Calamus International University, except to list them as an unaccredited university in the United States." (source) The reader is invited to consider what the same Oregon Office of Degree Authorization had to say about what constitutes a "degree mill":

What is a diploma mill?

Diploma mill: An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless . - Webster's Third New International Dictionary

Diploma mills (or degree mills) are substandard or fraudulent "colleges" that offer potential students degrees with little or no serious work. Some are simple frauds: a mailbox to which people send money in exchange for paper that purports to be a college degree. Others require some nominal work from the student but do not require college-level course work that is normally required for a degree. (source, italics added)

Looking at CIU's web site, it would appear that the OODA's definition of "diploma mill" fits CIU quite well. A "degree mill" is not simply a place that hands out degrees in exchange for money, but may also be an institution whose "lack of proper standards" renders their diplomas "worthless." A recap may be in order here. Calamus confirmed that Sungenis gave no defense of his dissertation; he only had to submit it for review by an "Independent Studies Committee." So who actually read the dissertation and approved it? Dr. Berg himself related to me that it was none other than Dr. Robert Bennett who did the initial reading on behalf of CIU. The Committee, which is chaired by Dr. Berg (of course - he is the Dean, the Rector, the Chair of the ISC, and Sungenis' academic advisor - apparently the man wears many "hats"), reviewed the dissertation to see that it met general standards, such as "Quality of English Language and Composition", "Literature Search and Breadth of Knowledge", "Methodology of the Study", "Research Questions or Experimental Hypotheses", "Selection of Appropriate Research Tools", and so on.

It might be appropriate to step back and consider what this means for a moment. The primary judge of the dissertation was the same individual who served as Sungenis' academic supervisor, the same individual who contributed a chapter for the dissertation when it was submitted for publication under the title Galileo Was Wrong, the same individual who has at least had a working relationship with Sungenis since 2001, when he joined Sungenis as a speaker at the first international Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation Conference in Virginia (source). This would be a little like me signing up for a degree from Calamus, asking Dr. Scott Hahn to serve as my supervising professor (CIU allows the doctoral candidate to propose his own supervising professor), and having him serve as the primary reader for my dissertation - a dissertation which would then later become a published book co-authored by Hahn himself! The phrase that comes to mind here is "conflict of interests."

Recall again that Sungenis' degree, as awarded to him in April of 2006 by CIU, is in Religious Studies. For this Religious Studies doctoral degree, Sungenis was supervised by an expert in Physics, and his dissertation was approved by a Physics expert and a doctor of Hypnotherapy. A short comparison should clarify what is wrong with this picture: I have a copy of Dr. Hahn's dissertation; in the back are the names of the four individuals who sat on the doctoral committee, and to whom he had to defend his work. All four of them are recognized scholars and doctors in the field of biblical studies (Drs. Laurence, Kurz, Schmitt, and Dempsey), which is only appropriate, since that was the subject of Hahn's dissertation. Again, to contrast: Sungenis' dissertation was for a degree in Religious Studies, but he was not required to defend the work, and the men who approved his work were experts, not in Religious Studies, but in Physics and Hypnotherapy.

This leads us to the inevitable conclusion: the standards at Calamus are undeniably lower than they would be at an accredited institution of higher learning, and thus, according to the OODA's definition, Calamus has the marks of a degree mill. But it really matters very little what the OODA thinks about what constitutes a degree mill; what matters is what Sungenis himself thinks. In an email discussion in 2004, Sungenis, commenting on the doctoral degree possessed by a certain well-known Protestant apologist, said, "If his outfit is a United States recognized accredited school, then I think we would have to accept his Ph.D. If it's [sic] accreditation is not accepted by the US, then we don't have to accept it. (I found out that the US is the key to almost all accrediting in regards to overseas institutions)." (Sungenis, email discussion of February 6, 2004, emphasis added)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sungenis has reversed his position on this issue now that he has a degree from a non-US-accredited institution. He writes, "Calamus International University does not have accreditation in the United States, and it has not sought for it. This makes little difference in my chosen field, Religious Studies, since the United States does not hold the market in academia on religion." (source, emphasis added) Once again, we are treated to a taste of Sungenis' double standards and schizophrenia. It is not entirely clear what he is even trying to say by this defense; the question is not whether one country or another "holds the market in academia on religion," but whether a particular institution is accredited anywhere. As we saw in the news article above, CIU is not only unrecognized in the US, but, to quote George Brown again, "Calamus is not a recognised university within any jurisdiction of the world. These professorships have no meaning in the world of academia that we know."

Someone will no doubt ask the question of whether we should not judge the matter based on the dissertation itself. As has been amply demonstrated by Michael Forrest at his web site,, Sungenis has shown himself all-too willing to engage in sub-standard and shoddy scholarship when he is arguing for one of his pet ideas - and anyone who has looked at CAI's web site is aware that geocentrism is a major pet project for Sungenis. How good was his research in this dissertation? Evidently not that good. In an Internet discussion forum, a user by the name of "Sylas" demonstrated that Sungenis had badly misquoted one of his sources. What followed upon this discovery was quite revealing.

The quote in question appeared on page 49 of Galileo Was Wrong. Sungenis there quoted C. Truesdell as follows:

Physicist C. Truesdell says the same from a different angle: "The heliocentric theory would have been rejected if people of the 17th century had computers." (source)

"Sylas" apparently took the time to look up the actual quote, and notes that "now that you give the page number I see that Sungenis is giving a crude paraphrase to help his distortions. In other words, not only is the context lost, but it's a misquote as well." ( ibid.) He then gives the actual quote from Truesdell, which is as follows:

Had modern machines been available then, Kepler himself might have formulated his laws nevertheless, but astronomers would not have accepted them. (ibid.)

For the purposes of comparison, both quotes are shown below, one after the other:

The heliocentric theory would have been rejected if people of the 17th century had computers. (Truesdell, as quoted by Sungenis)

Had modern machines been available then, Kepler himself might have formulated his laws nevertheless, but astronomers would not have accepted them. (Truesdell, actual quote)

It was none other than Mark Wyatt, Sungenis' most recent opportunistic shill (who also received honorable mention in Galileo Was Wrong), who was discussing the subject with "Sylas," and so he naturally went to Sungenis with the discrepancy. His explanation is a classic example of Sungenis' style of damage control:

Seeing that the quote appeared not accurate, I asked Robert about it, and upon investigation he admits that in fact the quote is incorrect. He has checked out practically every quote in the book for accuracy, unfortunately , that one he did not. He says he has purchased thousands of dollars worth of books and articles during the research phase, and carefully checked (and in some cases rejected / corrected) the quotes. The person who made the advertisement also liked the quote, so he used it in the ad.

He personally thanks you, since in fact he has not sent out the first CD's yet, and will expunge the quote (or correct it as makes sense) from both the ad and the book. He is a stickler for literary accuracy, and in fact it is a good thing you pointed this out. (source, emphasis added)

This is how Sungenis handles himself when he gets caught: emphasize that "practically every" other quote was checked for accuracy (practically?), downplay the fact that this one little misquote got through, attempt to wow the audience with the fact that he's spent "thousands of dollars" on books and articles for his research (one wonders how Sungenis' patrons and donors feel about him using their hard-earned money to obtain an increasingly-questionable doctorate), and then butter up the whistle-blower by making him feel like a hero, e.g., "He personally thanks you ... He is a stickler for literary accuracy, and in fact it is a good thing you pointed this out." Of course, Sungenis' proven track record suggests just the obvious: he paraphrases an author and passes it off as a literal quote; he pulls a quote from a secondary source, but cites it as though he found it in the primary source; if he feels justified in doing so, he sometimes doesn't even bother to properly reference a source (as is the case in Galileo Was Wrong on page 434, where he quotes "one author" - who is unnamed - and gives as a reference "," which is nothing more than the home page for Florida State University's Department of Physics, on which no article or essay of any kind appears); these are not the habits of someone who is a "stickler for literary accuracy."

"Sylas" seemed somewhat unimpressed with the explanation, when he responded, "It still stands as an example of seriously sloppy scholarship. The quotes should not even be presented unless read for themselves. If a quote is given indirectly from a secondary source, then the secondary source should be cited. This is pretty basic. I'm agreeably surprised that Sungenis has reacted so swiftly and positively to fix the error; but it should never have been made in the first place." (source, emphasis added) Precisely. If "Sylas" had been privy to some of Sungenis' other writings, however, he would have known that this is par for the course.

A brief reminder should suffice. Example 1: Sungenis sent a 1,500-word "Letter to the Editor" of Culture Wars magazine, critiquing a review of Roy Schoeman's book Salvation is from the Jews. Michael Forrest asked him if he had read the book, and Sungenis responded, "No. Does it say something different than what I quoted?" (Sungenis, email of April, 2004) Example 2: Sungenis publicly accused John Paul II of having engaged in voodoo worship; Forrest asked him if he had verified this with more than one source, and Sungenis responded, "Don't remember. I've had it in my notes for a while. Can you do some checking for me?" (Sungenis, email of May 10, 2003) Example 3: Sungenis attributed a quote to John Paul II which was inaccurate; David Palm challenged him on it, and Sungenis changed the attribution so that it was no longer John Paul II who had said the words, but Cardinal Ratzinger; when Palm challenged him again to prove that the quote was accurate by supplying a source, Sungenis supplied a quote which (like the example caught by "Sylas") had little resemblance to the one he had published on his web site. When Palm pointed this out and recommended that Sungenis just ditch the faulty quote completely, Sungenis lashed out, "If you want me to apologize for a possible misquote of him, perhaps you can tell the pope to apologize for the dozens of other ludicrous theological statements he has made in the last 26 years." (Sungenis, email of March 30, 2005) Example 4: In his 2002 essay on the USCCB document "Reflections on Covenant and Mission", Sungenis plagiarized (that is, quoted without any attribution) a lengthy section of a Nazi pamphlet that he found on the Internet; William Cork called him on the carpet, and Sungenis admitted that he didn't "remember the name of the website" from which he had taken the quote (source)

Does this give us the picture of a man who is a serious scholar and a "stickler for literary accuracy," someone worthy of holding a Ph.D.? A man who must constantly be back-tracking and correcting erroneous statements, pleading ignorance, pleading forgetfulness, asking others to verify the accuracy of things he has already asserted as true, and finally arguing that the ends justify the means?

Apparently Sungenis used the same "seriously sloppy scholarship" in his doctoral dissertation. The example given by "Sylas" is just one verifiable example, one place where Sungenis got caught; how many other examples could be shown, if someone had the time and energy to comb through 1,000+ pages of text, double-checking every reference? The point is that such an exercise is unnecessary; once it has been demonstrated that Sungenis regularly dispenses himself from any obligation to follow scholarly standards as long as he is already convinced of his conclusions, all of his work becomes suspect. How many times has he paraphrased other writers and misquoted them in his other books? He does it in his articles, and apparently he did it in his dissertation, so how many other times has he done this? He would no doubt protest that the misquote never made it into the published version of Galileo Was Wrong - and he would protest in this way precisely because he forgets that if "Sylas" hadn't caught him, the misquote would have been in the final publication. Sungenis was saved in this instance, as in other instances, because, once again, someone else did his leg-work, not because he exercised the care and precision he should have while writing a doctoral dissertation (and since this online discussion took place in late June of 2006, nearly three months after CIU had awarded Sungenis the doctorate, it stands to reason that the false quote would be in the actual dissertation).

Not that it probably would have mattered. His academic advisor is an expert in Hypnotherapy, and his supervising professor is an expert in Physics who was also his co-author for Galileo Was Wrong. As another forum user put it:

I don't think it gets much better than this. A hypnotherapist with a specialization in past life regressions. In the time he can spare from supervising PhD programs in religious studies, the one field he seems to have missed in his holistic studies, he serves as both principal and acting rector for Calamus International University. I note he also claims degrees from the West Indies. Anyone want to bet that a search for those degrees would result in a finding that they were granted by CIU?

And the only other academic involved in Sungenis dissertation is his partner in crime. I wouldn't let this guy debate my ferret on grooming techniques, and he wants to debate a Princeton PhD. Somebody help me, I'm gonna die laughing. (source)

In other words, the requirements set by CIU for obtaining a doctorate are substandard; Sungenis never had to defend his dissertation; it is apparent that his research involved a lot of secondary sources (as evidenced by the fact that he had Derksen and Fr. Harrison do his German and Italian translations), some of which he apparently paraphrased and then tried to pass off as primary ( i.e., the Truesdell quote); his primary reader for the dissertation was also his supervising professor and co-author of the book, who has no expertise in Religious Studies, the field in which Sungenis was awarded his degree; the US does not recognize this institution as an accredited school, and according to the 2004 version of Sungenis' beliefs, if an institution's "accreditation is not accepted by the US, then we don't have to accept it." For once, we are in complete agreement.

The reader can think what he will about the validity of Sungenis' degree. The evidence suggests, however, that Sungenis is no kind of scholar worthy of the name. It would rather appear that his drive to be recognized as a scholar, by being able to stick a few letters after his name, over-rules his responsibility to actually be scholarly in his research and writing. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that his agenda-driven essays on personal "pet" issues contain sloppy and inaccurate research, misrepresentations, false quotes, wrongful accusations, and misleading suggestions. It can only be hoped that the reader will, after considering what has been written here, think twice before uncritically accepting anything Sungenis has to say, especially on matters relating to the Jewish people.