In the same memo, Dr. Sun went on to challenge, intimidate or threaten us as follows and we quote: “While you are reading the below lines, a coordinated legal effort within Ghana and the US has been initiated: “fake”, by dictionary definition relates to something as being “not true or real: meant to look real or genuine but not real or genuine” – thus mentioning SMC and their alumni, who spend years on thorough research to complete an accredited program, in such a context shall be treated and acted upon as attempted slander, duress and defamation.” All we can say is, bring it on.
We hope to address each of the issues Dr. Sun raised in his memo. In the sixth paragraph of the said memo, Dr. Sun gave a historical narration of the Swiss accreditation regime. What is heartwarming about Sun’s revelation is that, by his own clarification, the “Swiss government provided no options for private universities until 2015.” What sun failed to do in this historical narrative is to not educate his students on the reasons the Swiss authorities would not provide accreditation options for private universities in Switzerland, particularly those engaged in the teaching and award of online degrees. Even though Sun assured his students that those private institutions operate legally and offer “high quality education programs,” our concern has not been whether those institutions operate legally or offer high quality education. The unambiguous position is that SMC is not accredited by the Swiss accreditation authorities. No institution of higher learning can be a judge of its own academic standards. This is the reason institutional accreditation is mandatory for all universities operating in Ghana. Sun also pointed out that in 2015, “Swiss law was amended to enable accreditation of private universities, but only in theory.” As we raced through the memo, the preceding quote referenced only heightened our expectation that what would follow would indicate that the SMC, in both theory and practice, has applied for and has been granted that seal of recognition as an accredited private university, putting to rest the contentions of the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, Sun again offered the excuse that “the thresholds and criteria for eligibility have been adopted from state-controlled facilities, leaving little to no room for small or specialized providers.” Sun explained that the very few private universities in Switzerland that are granted accreditation have to do that in partnership with the well-established public universities. Even though Sun failed to explain why, it must be obvious to the average reader that what Sun considered impracticable accreditation processes for private institutions in Switzerland are only stringent measures put in place to safeguard the quality of education in that country.
The Ghanaian reader will recollect that until recently, Ashesi University had to operate under the mentorship of University of Ghana, so do many private universities in Ghana. Thus, the kind of arrangement Sun is explaining is nothing peculiar to the Swiss. That is already happening in Ghana. Talking about programmatic accreditation, for the many years that then Institute of Professional Studies (IPS) operated as an academic institution, it operated in similar capacities, running programs that are recognized by professional bodies. The point is that Sun is not saying anything new in this memo to his students. We can only wish that these so-called doctoral students read through the lines, appreciate the facts, and begin to direct their questions at Sun and his colleagues. Buying space in the Daily Graphic to slam our good intentions of exposing the dishonesty that is being foisted on Ghanaians by institutions that do not have accreditation does not make SMC an accredited institution. So, if we should once again respond to the issue of SMC’s status as university with accreditation to run doctoral programs in Ghana, we simply would revert to our earlier position: the SMC is not accredited by the Swiss accreditation authorities nor the NAB and therefore should not be deceptively portraying itself to Ghanaians as such.
It is interesting that the SMC Vice-Chancellor would resort to the good old rhetorical strategy of association in an attempt to underscore the credibility of his institution as an accredited one. Sun referenced the Ohio State University, Temple University, and Southern New Hampshire University as world class universities that also operate by ACBSP accreditation. By extension, there is no anomaly with his institution granting doctoral degrees and PhDs (dual PhDs with University of Central Nicaragua). What Sun failed to tell his students in this memo is that, all the institutions he mentioned in this memo as having ACBSP accreditation, as a prerequisite, have OPE accreditation in the United States in line with the ACBSP requirement. According to the ACBSP “for institutions located within the US, regional accreditation of the institution is required for membership accreditation credibility.” The reader can follow the link to the OPE site in order to check the regional/national accreditation status of the aforementioned institutions. The point then is that this form of identification, as Kenneth Burke would call it, falls flat. The fact that Ohio State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Temple University have ACBSP accreditation for their business programs does not mean that, by extension, SMC can run doctoral programs, especially PhDs, in Ghana based on such forms of association. If the SMC doctoral students cannot point out the missing links in these arguments to their Vice-Chancellor, I am sure the reading public can, and can tell who is displaying “utter ignorance” here (You can please follow the link to the national accreditation status of Southern New Hampshire University and the others You can please follow the link to the national accreditation status of Southern New Hampshire University and the others).
Dr. Sun also raised issues with our methodological and ethical choices. He was not alone. While Sun was concerned about the “report passing a graduate research assignment,” Dr. Esi Dogbey-Bani, who is an Associate Professor of comparative literature at the University of Louisville is of the view that the report under discussion flouted the United State Family Education Rights and Privacy Acts (FERPA) of the individuals published in the said report (We will address Dr. Esi Dogbey in a full rejoinder in the days to follow).
While Sun failed to mention, specifically, the ethical and methodological standards that were flouted, his reference to phrases such as “minimize harm” and “seek the truth,” which were the basis for the report and preamble same, must have been the basis for Sun’s suggestion that ethical standards were flouted in generating data for the report and the subsequent publication of the results. In Sun’s view, this undermines our competency, the institutions we work for, and “seeks to sensationalize improperly on Ghanaian scholars.”
First, let it be clear that nowhere in the report under discussion did we attempt to “sensationalize improperly on Ghanaian scholars.” In case studies, each case is examined as a phenomenon with conclusions based on the facts that a particular case reveals. In this case, specific cases, including the case of SMC which is unaccredited by the Swiss authorities, was examined. Individuals who are parading doctoral degrees and PhDs from the SMC were identified and conclusions were drawn based on this specific case. The attempt to extrapolate the results of this investigation to encompass very hard working Ghanaian academics who are playing by the academic rules and standards are simply in the figment of Sun’s imagination. We expected the recipients of this memo to have pointed out this to him.
Closely related to the foregoing, in SMC’s initial response to the report, the leadership of SMC, again, attempted to divert the attention of intelligent readers by insinuating methodological weaknesses to our investigation without pointing to any specific failures in the methodology. Sun should be informed that investigators operationalize their investigation and define their area of freedom. We did not set out to be accomplices with Sun and Co to deceive Ghanaians. Our operational parameters were clearly set and those parameters defined the very charge (the task) we assigned ourselves in that investigation. Sun should also be aware that research methods are not cast in stone and researchers and investigators are not supposed to dogmatically behold research methods as though social conditions are not dynamic across time and space, triggering the need for extending, revising, and adapting research methods to a peculiar phenomenon. Perhaps, Sun is under the impression that we had failed to consult him in the processes of our investigation. The fact is that it was a well-considered option which was overruled, as that would have imposed other institutional requirements. Sun also argued that cases must be examined from multiple angles. If he cannot examine the various angles from which the accreditation of SMC was evaluated, that is his palaver to manage.
According to the Minister of Education, Naana Opoku-Agyemang,
This worrisome and disruptive phenomenon has been discussed in the public
domain for many years; some papers have been written on it…the Ministry
took initiative three years ago to assess the Acts (where they existed, and craft
enabling Acts where none did) of all of our 20 Agencies including NAB in
order to enable them to function properly in accordance with changing
inter/national realities and trends. (Personal Communication, August 18, 2016)
The point of highlighting the Education Minister’s frustration with the phenomenon is that, there was the urgent need for public intellectuals to step into the public sphere to spearhead this conversation. The challenge of positioning oneself between the academic and reaching out to the generality of the public is a delicate rope to walk. We are not unaware of the scholarly process that leads to publication in journals. Our persona in this investigative report is simply that of public intellectuals. The said report was not intended for any academic journal and for that matter the academic community. What Sun should be asking himself is: why did the other papers the Education Minister referenced did not trigger the level of participation this report has elicited from the general public? It will do a lot of good to Dr. Sun to do some reading on public intellectual activities.
Second, the notion of “minimizing harm” is dialectical with multiple dimensions. At one level, we may consider the harm that is visited on the Ghanaian student who is under the impression that he/she is receiving the graduate training of an international standard from an institution that is accredited and properly registered. We may also consider the harm a sub-standard pedagogy may have on national development goals and aspirations, as the recipients venture into the academic world and begin to franchise their unwholesome qualifications on their students. At another level, we may consider harm from the perspective of the errant institutions and their professors. The point is that there is no research project or investigation that does not encounter these dialectical tensions. The investigator must, therefore, choose a side that yields the greater good with minimal harm. Put in a question form: do we expose the institutions and individuals who were involved in these malpractices in order to protect the integrity of Ghanaian institutions or do we back off simply because the report will do harm to the individuals and institutions that are involved in these practices? Our decision to expose the culprits was a product of utilitarian ethical considerations—the good of an entire society has a place in ethical reasoning. Thus, exposing a crime for the betterment of society is ethical from this perspective. Just as any intellectual and political positions, there are multiplicity of perspectives. If Sun fails to point to the ethical standard that was breached by the report under discussion, we believe Sun’s doctoral students can put our choices through the ethical litmus test in order to expose the failings of this research on ethical grounds to demonstrate their own understanding of these issues.
Sun also wondered “If the quality of education was at the core of people holding doctorates, why not have a scholarly panel assess the basic fundamentals of scientific research that PhD holders should have mastered?” This question clearly demonstrates that Sun lacks in-depth understanding of what the intellectual process is all about. We believe that by failing to acquire accreditation for his program from the Swiss authorities, Sun does not appreciate the oversight role of accreditation institutions which is tantamount to the “scholarly panel” he is calling for to assess the fundamentals of a scientific research that PhD holders master. The granting of accreditation is the basis upon which universities establish and maintain authoritative academic journals for publication; accreditation is what confers authority on professors to form dissertation committees and grant PhDs; it is the accreditation that ensures that standards are being met and maintained by universities.
What is even more troubling about Sun’s submissions is that, Sun does not see the need to stay focus on the topic of accreditation, making us to begin to even question his own credentials as someone who holds a PhD. While the topic under discussion is about accreditation, Sun veers off completely to talk about the contributions of SMC and its staff to the development of Ghana. Here are a few examples, with our question placed by them pari passu:
• [SMC] Consistently donates funds to charities like the Osu orphanage when holding residencies. Are the issues in contention about donations SMC makes to OSU orphanage?
• [SMC] Offers scholarly writing and research workshops that are highly needed. When SMC learned of the challenges in scholarly writing and the fact that most students had no course or teaching in scholarly writing, we offered many writing/dissertation workshops to help Ghanaian students. Are the issues of our disagreement about the paucity of training and research opportunities in Ghana? (If even that were the case, we are certain that that is for the policy arm of the Education Ministry in Ghana to address, not an unaccredited SMC).
• [SMC] Successfully graduated 47 doctorates who lead many organizations and have consistently published in international journals. Is the question about how many doctoral graduates SMC graduated in Ghana and where they are placed in the socio-political sphere in Ghana? (SMC can graduate thousand and one PhDs in Ghana, but the lack of SMC accreditation implies that those degrees are questionable. If we may ask, how many PhDs are graduated in Ghana by University of Ghana, Cape Coast University, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology combined?). We challenge Sun to publish the doctoral dissertations of all its graduates online for review, and provide a list of all journal articles published by its graduates (the 47 in Ghana) in “non-predatory” journals or journal by credible publishing houses like Elsevier, Taylor and Francis, Willey, Springer, Sage. It is a fact that Ghanaian intellectuals will be alarmed, if such information is provided.
Sun further insinuated that the erroneous “apology” issued by Graphic Online, with the screaming caption: “WE ARE SORRY,” underscores the fact that we were up to mischief which was duly recognized by the Daily Graphic, eliciting an apology from the national daily. Readers can follow the link to our rejoinder to the Daily Graphic on this and appreciate how the Daily Graphic has cheapened itself to a point where it became an accessory for the franchising of the very unwholesome qualifications and awards under discussion (https://www.academia.edu/27791069/Rejoinder_Apology_To_UPSA_Others). Let’s once again remind readers that neither SMC nor UPSA can cling onto such an apology as an epistle of exoneration. The Daily Graphic has no accreditation mandates.
In his concluding remarks, Sun pointed out that “these issues were raised by two individuals who don’t live in Ghana and who have chosen to create chaos with highly biased information, through a media organization that is willing to create conflict to garner more attention for its own profit.” While we agree that we do not live in Ghana, just like Sun, we are Ghanaians first and foremost. Thus, any issue that affects the country Ghana is of great concern to us. Considering the level of unemployment in Ghana, the bastardization of education, and their attendant complications, we are of the view that the corrective and preventive actions or measures must start from our educational institutions. After all, Ghana is a home to which we return to every now and then. But unlike Sun, we are not driven by profit motives to embark on this crusade. After all, when the gestation period for all the unwholesome qualifications that are being dished out here and there run their cycle, Sun and Co will return to the comfort of their countries. It is us the Ghanaians who will continue to live with the consequences. We wish to make it known to the reading public that there are a good number of university professors resident in Ghana who are equally troubled by this precarious situation.
To stay on the topic of interest, we have so far refrained from indulging in the employment of abusive language that seeks to intimidate and question the professional competencies of the individuals involved in the malpractices that we have exposed. But if that is necessary to give a complete picture to the canker called SMC that tends to dilute and water down the academic standards and procedures that must be followed in conferring doctoral degrees, most importantly a doctor of philosophy (PhD), then Dr. Sun should expect that we would engage him from that angle from now on.
Turning the Searchlight on SMC and Sun
• The video titled “residency class” demonstrates a very disturbing phenomenon about some practices at the SMC. By what arrangements should doctoral candidates be doing contributing money to give to their Vice-Chancellor at the end of their study? (please follow the link to the said video here http://www.smcuniversity.com/about/our-network/smc-in-eritrea/). In this video, students contributed $500.00 and gave to Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Ted Sun. One only wonders if this is one of the standards that are being transmitted to our doctoral candidates and future professors. As an Assistant Professor of Communication, or as a general practice, there cannot be any financial transaction between me and my students at any point in the pedagogical process, be it a gift or based on the trading of any sort. But one can see so-called doctoral students in Sun’s SMC gleefully contributing money to offer their Vice-Chancellor as a gift. What is worrying about that is that the very things that higher education should be helping us curtail or frowned upon are the very things that Sun and his SMC is promoting.
• In 2009, Dr. Ted Sun was expecting a PhD from Capella University (Please follow the link to Sun’s profile http://www.smcuniversity.com/about/our-faculty/department-of-management/). We do not know if Sun completed that PhD or not. Then by 2016 or even before then Sun becomes a Vice-Chancellor. When did he complete his PhD, when did he became an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Head of Department, Department Dean, and finally a Vice-Chancellor?
We believe Vice-Chancellors in Ghanaian universities are following this spirited debate. We also wish to remind the leaders of UPSA that if once upon a time, the UPSA operated on the basis of accreditation from professional bodies, running ACCA and other professional course, now that it has been granted a university status, it must play by the rules, procedures, and standards by which universities operate—meaning its professors must be graduated by Universities with proper accreditation. As promised in our earlier submissions, we would continue to tackle this issue in commensurate measures, only responding to the challenges of the antagonist and educating the public on the matters they raise. It must be noted that even though the leadership of SMC has resorted to private emails to its students in which they continue to denigrate and question our intellectual competencies, some of these students are beginning to realize the dilemma they are in. Therefore, they forward the email communications between them and the SMC leadership to us for advice.
Dr. Prosper Yao Tsikata
Assistant Professor of Communication
Valdosta State University
Dr. A. Kobla Dotse
Director, Chemical Research & Development