Stephen Palkot, Fort Bend Herald
Reprinted with permission
Two of Fort Bend County's top elected officials this week have
opted to stop referring to themselves as doctoral recipients, having
been informed they may have broken Texas law.
|(Section 32.52) of the
Texas Penal Code prohibits the use of fraudulent or substandard
degrees "in a written or oral advertisement or other promotion
.. with the intent to ... gain a position in government
with authority over another person, regardless of whether the
actor receives compensation for the position."
inclusion of unpaid positions in the law may be
particularly troubling for Wilson. In addition to her paid
position as Fort Bend County Clerk, Wilson serves on several
powerful state committees and has been a featured speaker for
state and national associations as Dr. Dianne Wilson, PhD.
In 2004, County Judge Bob Hebert took credit for earning a
PhD. from California Coast University, while County Clerk Dianne
Wilson began referring to herself as “Dr. Wilson,” in 2003 based on a
title she earned through Kennedy Western University, now known as
Warren National University.
It turns out since at least 2005, however, it is a crime in Texas
to promote degrees from either school. The Texas Legislature that year
passed a law which let the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
create a list of schools, “whose degrees are illegal to use in
Texas.” Both California Coast and Warren National were included on the
The law made it a Class B misdemeanor to use “substandard degrees”
to apply for jobs in Texas.
Wilson, who has been particularly insistent on calling herself a
doctor, this week changed her standard telephone greeting, which for
years thanked individuals for “calling the office of Dr. Dianne
Wilson, Fort Bend County Clerk.”
“I took an oath of office that I would uphold the laws of the state
and country, and that's now a law in Texas, so I'm honoring it,” she
said on Thursday.
The hubbub, say both officials, began on Monday when a reporter
with Houston's Channel 11, KHOU, told them of Texas Penal Code 32.52,
which is the law passed by the Legislature in 2005.
“Certainly when I realized there was a law like that, I removed it
from my (campaign) Web site and took it off my wall,” said Hebert.
Hebert said he found a reference to his California Coast degree on
the county Web site, and had it removed. Otherwise, no changes will
need to be made to any county stationery or legal forms, he said.
The above image
is from document # 2007123005 filed October 02, 2007 at
4:22 pm. It was retrieved from the
Bend County Website.
Wilson added the
questionable title to her official signature and file
stamp in the spring of 2003. It appears on every public document
filed with the clerk's office since that date.
Wilson, however, said she will alter references to herself in
county paperwork as well as in software programs used by the county.
Both California Coast University and Warren National University
(then Kennedy Western) in 2004 were named by the U.S. General
Accounting Office as “diploma mills.” The GAO, which monitors federal
spending, specifically took to task the use of taxpayer money to
pay for federal employees' enrollment in the schools.
California Coast University on its Web site does claim
accreditation by Distance Education and Training Council, but that
agency is not recognized for accreditation by the Texas Higher
Education Coordinating Board.
As for Warren National, it does not bother with any accreditation.
“The true recognition of a Warren National degree comes from its
voluntary acceptance by the business, professional and academic
communities,” states the school's web site.
|Not the First Time For Wilson
Wilson was indicted
by a Grand Jury
on charges she allegedly used taxpayer money to finance a
Bachelor Degree from St. Edwards University and a fellowship
certificate from the National Center for State Courts’ Institute
for Court Management. That case culminated in Wilson agreeing to
reimburse the taxpayers $7,600.00.
When Elected Officials Aren't What They Seem
Hebert said he will consider his PhD. a matter of personal
history, and contends he did not use it to “apply” for a job, having
first been elected as county judge in 2002. He was re-elected in 2006,
but did not face an opponent. He also readily points out the MBA he
earned through Pepperdine University in California came the
“I don't think it makes a hill of beans about what people think
about my service as county judge,” he said regarding the doctorate
Wilson defends her use of the degree, pointing out her work
included writing a dissertation.
|Kennedy-Western Course Study
Kennedy-Western requires students to pass one open-book, multiple-choice test
for each class, according
to testimony given by
Commander Claudia Gelzer, U.S. Coast guard before the U.S.
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
"With just 16 hours of study, I had completed 40 percent of the
course requirements for a master's
degree,” she said.
Click here for full statement.
“I will say, I'm disappointed because I did the work, I did the
study course. I did the test. I wrote the dissertation, but I will
honor the statute,” she said.
Wilson said she made a good faith effort to comply with the statute
after learning about it Monday and discussing it with lawyers this
week. She said she does not expect any criminal charges or other legal
Wilson also faced re-election in 2006, defeating a challenger in
the Republican primary.
District Attorney John Healey said he has heard of the
controversy, but has not examined it first-hand and cannot say if
either official broke the law in question.
“Nobody has asked for an investigation or a prosecution of either
of those individuals for that matter,” Healey said.
The questionable degrees were first brought to
light publicly in 2003 and 2004 in columns written by former Fort Bend
Herald publisher Clyde C. King Jr.