Dr Hafizool Ali Mohammed, one of the commissioners appointed to sit on the commission of enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt, has admitted he obtained his doctorate from a bogus university. Mohammed has a doctor of science degree (DSc) in international relations from Atlantic International University (AIU)–an institution described by various Web sites as a diploma mill.
The commissioner, who is expected to return to Trinidad this week for the sixth sitting of the enquiry, told the Sunday Guardian on Friday that he received his DSc from the unaccredited university because of his age and the flexibility it offered. The university's Web site states clearly that the online learning programmes offered at AIU are unique, "non-traditional" and not accredited by the US State Department of Education.
The university, which is based in Hawaii, recommends students should consider the importance of national accreditation for the required field and profession they wish to pursue before enrolling. A source said an examination of Mohammed's doctoral thesis, which is entitled Law and Politics in Islam, revealed the thesis has no citations or end notes.
"It is not the normal structure of doctoral degree. The thesis is not of scholarly nature at all. It is just information, typed. "No reputable university will award a doctoral degree for such work," the source commented. The Sunday Guardian learned that a top official who is closely associated with the Government raised concerns over Mohammed's DSc two months ago, fearing the embarrassing consequences if it was discovered.
According to Mohammed's curriculum vitae, his earlier academic qualifications include a Bachelor of Science in business administration and psychology from Columbia College, and a master's in human resource management from Central Michigan University. Mohammed, who is the CEO of Peosys International, a management consulting business, says in his CV that he was placed on the dean's list at Columbia College for maintaining a GPA of 4.00.
His CV does not state which Columbia College he attended. There are several Columbia Colleges in the United States.
Also listed is his experience in national security. Among the qualifications listed by Mohammed, a former army officer, is a master of science in military science from the US Army Staff and Command College, Leavenworth, Kansas. Mohammed also said he holds a master's degree in national security studies from American Military University in 2011 as distinguished graduate.
As referees, Mohammed listed several government ministers, including Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran and Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma. Dookeran could not be reached for comment, as a woman who answered his telephone said he was out of the country on business. Sharma, responding via text message yesterday, said he was "not aware" that he was used as a reference on Mohammed's CV.
On the basis of his experience, the Sunday Guardian learned, Mohammed has expressed a keen interest in assisting with national security measures in T&T. In a congratulatory note he sent to Minister of National Security Jack Warner in July on his new appointment, he wrote: "I sit on the enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup. I wear four hats: a foreigner, an international security expert, a combat veteran and a Muslim."
Extending congratulations to Warner, Mohammed added, "Our next enquiry session is scheduled for the last week in August and will last for two weeks. However, I am prepared to be on the next flight to meet with you regarding national security of T&T and any other matters as may be deemed appropriate."
It is uncertain whether Warner met with Mohammed, as telephone calls and text messages sent to the minister by the Sunday Guardian went unanswered.
'They are not accredited'
The US Department of Education's Web Site says the US Secretary of Education recognises certain regional and national institutional accrediting agencies. These are officially regarded as "reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programmes they accredit."
The AIU falls under the purview of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities. Contacted on Friday, the Western Association's university co-ordinator Marcy Ramsey confirmed to the Sunday Guardian that AIU was not among the recommended universities on the association's listing.
Asked if the AIU was an accredited university, Ramsey replied: "No, they are not accredited." Moreover, online checks showed AIU is among unaccredited institutions listed on a number of Web sites that warn students against registering there.
The Council for Higher Education has frowned upon degree mills like AIU, warning:
"Students may be looking for shortcuts to education credentials as they seek employment. Some students are misled by what is offered by degree mills, but others knowingly pay a significant fee in order to claim (falsely) that they have completed a legitimate course of study leading to reliable certification. Unscrupulous individuals respond, exploiting the current demand for higher education credentials in many countries."
The council added that the Internet gives individuals an instant platform from which to launch degree mills, which students often cannot readily distinguish from the online learning opportunities offered by legitimate institutions.
Mohammed: I knew university was not accredited
So why did Mohammed boost his CV with an unaccredited DSc? Not even he can explain, except to say that he intends to read for another degree. Asked why he opted to acquire a doctorate from an unaccredited university described as a diploma mill, Mohammed, speaking from his home in the US, replied: "I did it because I can do it online. It allows me the flexibility to do so because I do a lot of international travel. I am not able to do it any differently."
Told that his DSc is not recognised by the accreditation bodies governing the US, Mohammed, who received the unaccredited degree in 2009, said, "I have a certificate issued by the Secretary of State. The AIU is one of the universities that is quite unique. I did a fair amount of homework. "At least it is recognised by the US State Department. The correct word to use is that it is recognised."
The university's Web site emphasises that it is not accredited by any agency recognised by the US Department of Education. Asked to scan and send a copy of his DSc diploma to show it was recognised by the State Department, Mohammed said, "I have a problem with my computer. It is framed."
He admitted he did not do any background checks on the university, but said, "There are other people I know who graduated from the school. "I did realise the school was not fully accredited. "I clearly have intentions to further my studies even more in the future. I was thinking to do another MSc in international relations and conflict resolution."
He defended his choice of the degree mill, saying: "Frankly, the academics is not much different from an accredited university," adding, "Keep in mind I have other qualifications. "Also, I am 60. So it was a decision to fast-track, given my age."
Asked if he intends to repeat his DSc, this time at an accredited university, Mohammed said, "Yes, at some point in time I will.
"The fact that it is not accredited does not mean the academia is not good. My primary focus is to complete the degree online. I am not concerned whether the university is unaccredited or not. There are many great institutions in the world that are not accredited, but they offer outstanding education.
"It was an interim means to get me where I was going. I looked at the flexibility and what was being offered. I was looking at the University of Phoenix but I could not go to Arizona. I decided to make the number two choice for the time being. "I am not 25 or 45. It is my intent to do it over."
Contradicting his earlier statement that he was not concerned about whether or not the university was accredited, he added, "If I was to do it over, of course I will do it from an accredited university.
From the university's Web site:
"AIU has chosen private accreditation through the Accrediting Commission International (ACI) which it obtained in 1999, the ACI is not regulated or approved by the US Department of Education. "ATLANTIC INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY IS NOT ACCREDITED BY AN ACCREDITING AGENCY RECOGNIZED BY THE UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF EDUCATION."
(emphasis theirs) www.aiu.edu
From Mohammed's CV
�2 November 2006-April 2011: Middle East Desk officer/senior interoperability analyst.
�2 December 2004-2005: consultant to the US Under Secretary of Defence.
�2 February 2003-2004: director, concepts and integration division, army personnel transformation directorate of the US Army.
Assistant professor, University of Michigan, July 1998-June 2000. Among functions: instructing cadets to become the nation's leaders. How are commissioners chosen? The commissioners of an enquiry are chosen by Cabinet. Under the Constitution the President must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet in naming the commissioners.
The coup enquiry
Members of the commission were appointed in 2010 by acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith. The commission is headed by chairman Sir David Simmons. The other members are vice chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham and former independent senators Dr Eastlyn Mc Kenzie and Diana Mahabir-Wyatt. The Sunday Guardian learned daily fees for commission members range from approximately US$2,500-$5,000.