Columbia Pacific University
(Now Commonwealth Pacific University)
In early February 1996, an amazing thing happened on one of John Gray’s (now defunct) WWW site chat pages. A woman known only as Barbara posed a question to the group concerning Gray’s educational background. She felt that Gray’s work was, at best, relegated to the realm of pop psychology and she wanted to know more about the author’s qualifications. (www.marsvenus.com/cgi-bin/chat.cgi?../jbchat; Thu Feb 8 19:24:51 1996 and 19:24:42 1996 respectively.) Michael Najarian, an individual who asserted that he worked daily with Gray and knew him for a period of eight years, responded to her rather strong query. Najarian listed Gray’s familial devotion as his strongest “credential.” While he did note that Gray had completed a doctorate, he neglected to say where or when this prestigious degree was conferred. Indeed, Najarian seemed reluctant to cite the institution saying, in essence, that it was “integrity” that set Gray apart from the rest of the pack; one could not established the worth of an individual purely on an evaluation of academics alone. (Ibid., Sat Feb 10 07:58:06 1996.)
I smelled a rat, ladies and gentlemen. And it was time to do a little checking . . .
A Newsweek article reports that Gray spent nine years as a celibate monk and secretary to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (October 2, 1995, Page 96.) Surely if you’re a Beatles fan you’ll remember the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi! Time ran an article in 1997 wherein it was revealed that Gray earned himself a B.A. and M.A. in the Science of Creative Intelligence from the Maharishi European Research University in Switzerland. And just what is the “Science of Creative Intelligence?” According to a timeline of chronicling the highlights of the Maharishi’s campaign to establish heaven on earth, in 1971 “His Holiness” formulated the Science of Creative intelligence as the “scientific theory for the development of higher states of consciousness, which naturally develop through the practice of Trascendental Meditation.” Yeah, I hear all your Harvard Medical School graduates are doing this now. Cripes! No wonder Najarian was eso vasive.
Oh, and the “University?” Well, that’s been rumored to be evidenced by the existence of a few desks in the a hotel run by the movement in Seelisberg, Switzerland.
With this puzzling foundation established, I wondered where Gray received a Ph.D. On Gray’s book jackets and WWW sites, we are told that he received a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia Pacific University. Now, I won’t profess to know every school that dots the landscape of the United States, but I became concerned when I was unable to find a reference to Columbia Pacific University in any volume of Dissertation Abstracts. After all, Gray acts quite the authority throughout his publications and on talk show appearances; I fully expected the man to have a degree from an esteemed and widely respected institution. As a result, I did some checking on Gray’s alma mater and here is what I found.
- One master’s-degree student was given credit for “a learning contract describing how he would continue taking dance lessons and watch dance demonstrations in order to improve his skills as a Country Western dancer.”
- A Ph.D. dissertation written in Spanish was approved by four faculty who cannot speak the language.
- One dissertation “had no hypothesis, no data collection, and no statistical analysis. A member of the visiting committee characterized the work as more like a project paper at the college freshman level.” The dissertation, The Complete Guide to Glass Collecting, was 61 pages long.
- At least nine students who received Ph.D.s in 1994 had been enrolled less than 20 months, four of them less than 12. [Point Reyes Light, December 24, 1997]
How can this happen?
From the information brochure sent to me in 1996 by the Office of Admissions at CPU, the school, founded in 1978, is a “private, independent university offering non-residential programs leading to a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in a variety of academic fields.” Their educational philosophy held that “relevant educational work experience can contribute significantly to preparation for an advanced degree program.”
In the brochure’s opening paragraph, it is stated that in 1986, after an “exhaustive evaluation” of the school, the State of California’s Department of Education’s Superintendent of Public Instruction concluded that CPU offered an education “comparable to that required of graduates and other recognized schools accredited by an appropriate established accrediting commission.” Hmm, but it does not say that CPU is accredited, only that it is comparable to institutions that are accredited. The difference between being accredited and not being accredited is a bit like being a little pregnant, don’t you think?
Along with the general catalog that I later requested was a “fact sheet” from the Council on Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. Its inclusion seemed apologetic, if not defensive, explaining both what accreditation “is” and “is not,” basic types of accreditation and the various types of accrediting bodies. Either way you slice this loaf of bread, however, we are still life with crumbs that spell out NOT ACCREDITED.
CPU offered degree programs in three schools: Arts and Sciences, Administration and Management, and Health and Human Services. Students can apparently focus their independent study in a number of different fields: business, counseling, education, engineering applied science, health sciences, international business law, library science, psychology or public administration.
Again, according to the information brochure, “class attendance is not required. Courses can be completed by mail and phone.” Course work is accomplished through independent study arrangements with faculty and “academic Counseling staff.” Previous academic work and other “relevant experiences” are evaluated and assigned credit value for the desired program. Since CPU is a non-resident school, “contact with the University (including faculty) may be by letter, telephone, exchange of cassettes, in person, or a combination of these methods.” Students apparently “advance at their own rate” through the completion of “core curriculum requirements” and “workbooks on such topics as how to research information resources and develop organized individual learning plans.” There is an emphasis on so-called “Learning Contracts” that embrace individualized instruction (i.e., independent study) and other educational experiences that can be used “in order to accomplish some learning” and fulfill a portion of CPU’s academic requirements. Students must be enrolled for a minimum requirement of one year.
In the 1995 General Catalog, we are informed that students enrolling for the Ph.D. track was have a Master’s degree in hand or its equivalent. A minimum of 54 credits is required for graduation from any doctoral program at the school. Grading is accomplished through the issuance of the following: “No Pass-Work in Progress,” “No Pass Failure,” “Pass (equivalent to a B or C),” and “Pass with Distinction.” Well, for those of us who have weathered the storm of B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. requirements, we can be envious that there are apparently no grade point averages to get you bent out of shape at this institution.
Ph.D. hopefuls must indeed complete a dissertation. The student’s dissertation committee consists of the Dean overseeing their school, the faculty mentor who work with the student and another individual appointed by the Dean. They must all hold a Ph.D. and possess three years of experience in their specialty. And now we come back to that pesky accreditation item: at least two members of the student’s committee must hold a degree from a school certified by an accrediting body that has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Well, if accreditation isn’t such a big deal, then why would two committee members be required to hold degrees from institutions that have been accredited by recognized bodies?
But even this regulation hardly entitles CPU enter the world of legitimacy. In December 1997, California’s state attorney general’s office filed suit to compel Columbia Pacific to close down, pay civil penalties, and refund tuition fees. Deputy Attorney General Asher Rubin blasts the school in his complaint, calling it “a diploma mill which has been preying on California consumers for too many years.” The suit also calls Columbia Pacific a “phony operation” offering “totally worthless [degrees] . . . to enrich its unprincipled promoters.”
In December 1999, the Marin County Superior Court ordered CPU to cease operations within the state. And on February 21, 2001, the judge denied further appeals and entered a final judgement ordering CPU to:
- Pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education for violating Sections 17200 et seq. and Sections 17500 et seq. of the Califronia Business and Professions Code
- Permanently stop operating or offering any educational programs in California
- Notify all students enrolled from June 25, 1977 to December 1, 2000 of the injunction and of their right to a refund
- Provide refunds to all students within 30 days of their request
- Provide a status report to the Court by June 30, 2001.
CPU has moved to Missoula, Montana, changed its name to Commonwealth Pacific University, and remains in business. Its web site is silent on the California order.
So, armed with the power to meditate and a mail-order Ph.D., “Dr.” Gray builds his empire and sells his snake oil to the vulnerable. Something worth thinking about the next time you preceed John Gray’s name with the empty title “Doctor.”
My thanks to all of you who kept me informed as to CPU’s legal status and the work of Dr. Stephen Barrett at Quackwatch.com!