Graduate Students

U. of Louisville Says a Controversial Ph.D. Will Stand

April 21, 2009

The University of Louisville has concluded a seven-month investigation into the awarding of a Ph.D. in a case with connections to a former education dean who now faces federal fraud charges, and has decided that the degree will stand, The Courier-Journal reported.

The recipient, John E. Deasy, received the degree in 2004 after having been enrolled in the university for a single semester. Two years earlier, he had been involved in directing a $375,000 grant to a research center that was run by Robert Felner, who was then dean of Louisville’s College of Education and Human Development. Mr. Felner — who stepped down last summer from the Louisville job, as well as from a chancellor’s post he was planning to take in Wisconsin — served as chairman of Mr. Deasy’s dissertation committee.

Before his short stint at Louisville, Mr. Deasy had earned at least 50 credits toward a doctorate at three other institutions, including the University of Rhode Island, where Mr. Felner taught until 2003.

In September the University of Louisville appointed a committee to investigate whether the degree had been awarded improperly. In a statement quoted by The Courier-Journal today, the university said that the panel had concluded that Mr. Deasy successfully defended his dissertation before a faculty committee. “The degree stands; no further action will be taken,” the statement said.

The university said the review had confirmed the “integrity of our degree-granting process. We do not give away degrees.” It also noted several changes it was making to put more checks on the process for granting exemptions from graduate-degree requirements.

A federal indictment issued in October accuses Mr. Felner and an associate of diverting more than $2-million into their personal bank accounts from a federal research grant and from contracts with municipal school districts, including the district in Santa Monica, Calif., where Mr. Deasy served as superintendent from 2001 until 2006.

Mr. Deasy is now deputy director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The federal indictment of Mr. Felner does not suggest that Mr. Deasy knew about or benefited from the embezzlement that Mr. Felner is accused of. Mr. Felner has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. —Charles Huckabee