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FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Fairbanks has approved a policy change to recognize degrees only from accredited universities when it comes to decisions of hiring, promotions, tenure or transferring credit.
The change was prompted by controversy surrounding former UAF Faculty Senate president-elect Michael Hannigan, who resigned in October amid allegations that his doctorate degree came from a "diploma mill."
The policy, passed by the faculty senate in December and signed by UAF Chancellor Steve Jones earlier this month, is a revision of an earlier policy statement that named a specific list of schools considered unacceptable. But Jones said that policy, passed by the senate in November, almost immediately presented legal problems.
"The bottom line is that what they had come up with before just begged lawsuits, potentially, from institutions who view themselves as legitimate," Jones said.
The original "diploma mill" proposal included a 578-member list of unacceptable institutions, as compiled by an Oregon degree-authorizing office. The list was to be posted on the UAF Provost's Web site and updated annually.
Jones said UAF soon received a "sharply-worded, threatening letter" warning about legal action from an individual representing one of the schools on the list. He said UAF also became aware that other schools on the list were involved in lawsuits against the compilers of the lists.
"We don't want to get in a situation where we identify a university or the source of a diploma as being other than legitimate, and we end up with a libel suit filed," he said. "We're being very cautious for those reasons."
Jones said he met with the university's lawyers, as well as faculty senate president Abel Bult-Ito, and hashed out a revised version that kept the policy mostly intact but left off the list of schools. It instead notes that the university will decide whether schools are legitimate based on the recommendations of specific accrediting agencies.
Bult-Ito and Jones said adopting the list presented difficulties, as some of the universities on it might be on the list by mistake or be working toward accreditation.