In 2004, Colby Nolan graduated with honors from Trinity Southern University in Dallas, Texas, with a master’s degree in business administration and a 3.5 GPA. What made this achievement so astonishing is that Colby had earned the degree without attending a single class or completing a single exam. He couldn’t have, because Colby Nolan was a cat.
Trinity Southern University was a so-called “diploma mill” — an unaccredited, bogus school that awarded useless degrees for a fee. To prove that Trinity Southern would give a diploma to absolutely anybody, a deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania applied to the school on behalf of his 6-year-old cat, inventing a false background of work experience in babysitting and retail management. That, plus $299, was enough to earn Colby his degree. The degree, in turn, earned a big, fat lawsuit for Trinity Southern University.
But Trinity Southern isn’t the only diploma mill to ever exist, and Colby Nolan isn’t the only pet to earn a degree from one of them. Read on for more examples of pets with higher “educations.”
Last year, Molly the Basset Hound became the first dog in her family to graduate from high school, although no one will remember seeing her walk across the stage with the rest of their class at a graduation ceremony. According to Molly’s diploma, that’s because she was home-schooled. But in reality, Molly received her diploma from Lincoln Academy, a diploma mill that claims to be a “home school” in order to take advantage of a Texas law designed to help legitimately home-schooled students get into colleges and universities. The KHOU news team purchased the degree for Molly, who belonged to a KHOU photographer, in order to highlight the disreputable nature of Lincoln Academy and other for-profit “home schools” that take advantage of Texas students. (KHOU-TV)
Zoe D. Katze, Ph.D., C.Ht., DAPA
Is your psychotherapist qualified to treat you? He or she has some impressive-looking diplomas on the wall, but how do you know if they’re worth the paper on which they’re printed? To prove that they’re often not, Dr. Steve Eichel went about credentialing his friend, Zoe D. Katze, a house cat. But he didn’t stop at a diploma-mill certificate. Instead, he leveraged that worthless degree — a certificate in hypnosis — into several more, eventually adding “Ph.D” to his cat’s name. Dr. Katze is a certified member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, the American Board of Hypnotherapy, the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association, and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists. (IO9)
When U.K. media group BSkyB sued Electronic Data Systems for incompetence and deceit, the lawsuit had nothing to do with a dog earning a fraudulent degree, but Lulu’s falsified education did end up having a major impact on the case. Joe Galloway, an EDS employee and a key witness, was responsible for making the claims that BSkyB allegedly were fraudulent. Galloway also testified that he had a degree from Concordia College in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and claimed he had traveled there to attend classes. But during the trial, prosecutors were able to obtain a degree from Concordia, a diploma mill, for Lulu the dog. Lulu's transcript even showed better grades than Galloway's. Galloway’s credibility was destroyed, EDS lost big time, and the case of Lulu the college graduate became infamous in legal circles. (iTnews)
Gillian McKeith is popular TV nutritionist and writer in the U.K., but she has been the focus of some controversy regarding her qualifications. One of these is a certified membership in the American Association of Nutritional Consultants. Sounds pretty legit! But it’s not legit. In order to prove that it's not, Dr. Ben Goldacre went about obtaining the same certification for his cat, Henrietta. Was there some exam involved, or presentation of qualifications necessary? No. All it took was $60. Henrietta wasn’t even required to prove that she was alive, which she, in fact, was not. The American Association of Nutritional Consultants certified a dead cat. (The Guardian U.K.)
John I. Rocko
People obtain degrees from diploma mills for different reasons. Sometimes they’re well-intentioned suckers who get duped, and sometimes they’re con artists who want to point to a degree in order to help sell books and other products on TV. But could a police officer use a fraudulent degree to rise through the ranks and attain the position of police chief? It would seem so, in the case of Chief John McGuire of Fostoria, Ohio, who “earned” a “degree” in criminal justice from the aforementioned Concordia College. McGuire was hired as Fostoria’s police chief in 2006, but was proven a fraud one year later when Rocko the police dog was able to obtain the exact same Conordia College criminal justice bachelor’s degree as McGuire had (but with better grades than the chief). McGuire was acquitted of lying on his résumé, but that didn’t invalidate Rocko’s degree. (It wasn't valid in the first place.) (Associated Press)
Oreo C. Collins
Oreo had a tough start in life. She was born homeless, and lived down and out for her first few months. When Kelvin Collins found her, she was bedraggled in a ditch. But Collins rescued Oreo and gave her a good home. Oreo's story of luck and redemption — ghost-written by her owner — made for a great personal essay when she applied to Jefferson High School, an online diploma mill. Kelvin Collins is the head of central Georgia’s Better Business Bureau, and applied on Oreo’s behalf to prove that Jefferson High School’s diplomas were worthless pieces of crap. Oreo received her meaningless high-school diploma for nothing more than a $200 fee — and that touching personal essay, of course. (MSNBC)
With celebrities bestowing their children with names like Apple Martin and North West, we don’t blame the American Association of Nutritional Consultants for not automatically assuming that applicant Sassafras Herbert might not have been human simply because of her unusual name. But surely there should have been more to the application process than submitting a name, an address and a $50 fee. That’s all it took, though, when Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D., a prominent nutrition scientist, applied to the organization on behalf of Sassafras, his dog, just to prove that such diplomas are nothing more than pieces of paper that represent nothing. (Time)
If you employ the services of a hypnotherapist, use caution. George is the second cat on this list to have earned certification as a hypnotherapist, many times over in his case. Chris Jackson, the host of “Inside Out,” a news show on BBC television in the U.K., registered his cat, George, with three separate organizations: the British Board of Neuro Linguistic Programming (BBNLP), the United Fellowship of Hypnotherapists (UFH) and the Professional Hypnotherapy Practitioner Association (PHPA). Each one accepted George’s previous certificate from the Society of Certified Advanced Mind Therapists. The problem there, other than that George is a cat? The SCAMT doesn’t even exist. Jackson made it up, and nobody bothered to check. (BBC)
Next: 10 Smartest Animals
Almeda University is an online diploma mill that awards degrees in “life experience.” That was enough to inspire reporter Peter Brancato to apply for an associate’s degree on behalf of his dog, Wally. So what was Wally’s life experience? “Plays with the kids every day ... teaches them to interact better with each other … Teaches them responsibilities like feeding the dog." That résumé, apparently, was enough for Wally to receive an associate’s degree in childhood development from Almeda University, complete with out-of-thin-air coursework like European culture, U.S. history, algebra and even public speaking. (WRGB-TV)