Academic honesty

How does one get a degree? Truth is that there is more than one path.
For this exercise, I will use the story of my academic journey.

My story consists of several fits and starts over a 9 year period. In order to get started, I tried to finish at three different for-profit colleges. Life gets in the way and sometimes it can be a hard to actually get to crossing the finish line. I decided to at least aim for my AA. To complete that part of the academic journey, I chose an online program, an off-shoot of a major for-profit university.

Getting matriculated into that program required that I provide transcripts for all the educational courses I had completed up to that point. Not all of the credits I submitted were accepted, so I had to work with an adviser to create a pathway to securing the proper amount of credits required for the attainment of that AA degree. Because it was an online college, there was no graduation ceremony, but I did have to go through a particular protocol to qualify for ‘graduation’ and the award of my degree. It took about a year to get from beginning to end.

Before I finished my AA, I had already started thinking about my bachelors. I decided that since I had put significant amounts of time, energy and money into the journey, that I wanted to study in a program that aligned to my values and the work of my soul. I really did enjoy going to school even though it was challenging. A full time job, being a mother and wife tend to require a good deal of your attention. I did not use any potential increase in income that a degree might bring as selection criteria for a school or a course of study.

When I finally selected where and what I wanted to study, the application process required me to submit proof of my AA degree, which required transcripts, to the next college, in order to be accepted. This is a process requiring a lot of back and forth with registrars and counselors. I believe this is a pretty standard process across all academia.

As  my bachelor’s program drew to a close, I had to once again embark upon a process to graduate. I chose to ‘walk’ because there is a lot of ritual – the pomp and circumstance – attached to crossing that threshold. You have to have all your proverbial ducks in order, and there is a verification process to ensure that you have successfully completed all the credits required of the program. A lot of conversations with academic administrative folks take place. It takes a bit of time, all while you’re trying to finish up those last papers!

I had not intended to go any further than my BA program, but one day while doing some research for a non-profit organization, I stumbled upon a Master’s degree program that I knew I would move heaven and earth to get into. I discovered this program in mid-July, and the deadline for applying was August 5. In order to apply I had to do the following things:

write a letter of interest, write a mini research paper, complete an application, pay $50, get three letters of reference, and provide my transcripts to verify my lower degree.

I had to prove my credentials and my fitness as a student of the program. I got all that done and submitted just in the nick of time.

After I submitted, I was called for an interview. Actually there were two interviews. A phone interview and an in-person interview. The stress of wanting something so badly, and having to wait so long for the approval, was incredible. I was honored and deeply grateful to have been accepted into the program. That process never left my memory as I journeyed through the next three years of an intense and satisfying degree program. I learned such valuable lessons, not just academic ones.

If I decide to go for a Ph.D., I will have to go through another set of processes and protocols to prove my credentials and my fitness as a Ph.D. student.

So – I’m completely blown away to hear people say that they “thought they had their degree”. How does one not know that they haven’t satisfied the academic requirements? How does one not follow through with the educational institution to close out their academic accounts? How does one transition from a lower level degree program into the next level degree program and not have to prove that their lower level degree is legitimate? That’s a whole lot of loose ends that don’t tie up to anything.

If, in a moment of grace, we allow for the inconsistencies that sometimes inhabit the administrative processes of academia – how does one, after having invested so much time and money into their education, not follow up to course-correct and finally get that degree?

Let’s face it, academia is a weird environment – and sometimes difficult to navigate. It took me a long time to get through it. I get it. There is no shame in trying to navigate those environments and not getting it completed. There is, however, shame in claiming to have finished to completion when that didn’t happen. It disrespects the journeys of those who have persisted and survived the processes. It is dishonest and disrespectful. Just tell the truth. That’s a much better personal policy.

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