- Obtained from questionable online university
Long before the Botswana government placed him under VISA requirement restriction, Gaborone was already littered with pamphlets advertising Prophet Shepherd Bushiri’s much anticipated visit this coming weekend, but in the wake of his visa restrictions no questions are being asked about how he acquired his recent “PhD”. SONNY SERITE investigates.
‘‘Botswana Crusade, May Saturday 27, Gaborone National Stadium’’ this is the information appearing on a pamphlet being distributed and circulated on social media by followers of Prophet Bushiri. While there is absolutely nothing sinister in this, the pamphlet however ventures to cite the man of God as ‘‘Prophet Shepherd Bushiri PhD’’ and that is just where a big red flash flashes.
Bushiri holds an honorary PhD but in allowing the popular usage of the title “PhD” without the suffix (Hon) e.g. Shephard Bushiri PhD (Hon), the man of God seems to have fallen for the temptation which often gets the better of many honorary PhD holders who eventually want to be regarded as merited academic achievers when they are not. While presenting oneself as “Dr. Somebody” is technically acceptable, it is unethical for the line to be blurred to the point where one habitually presents themselves as a bonafide academic when they are not.
Bushiri’s honorary doctorate is publicized by Malawi’s online information site called Malawischolar.com which claims to be the leading educational website about Malawi.
The website which promises to give its readers the most educative articles written about Malawi shows in Bushiri’s biography that he “did PhD in philosophy from Therapon University.’’ This information piqued the interest of this publication which upon investigation turned up information that he was conferred the honorary degree just two months ago on March 26, 2017.
According to the university, Prophet Bushiri is a remarkable ‘‘Man of God’’ whose teachings and ministry is leaving an indelible impact on millions across the world. On receiving the doctorate, the celebrity preacher is quoted as having said; “It is always a special day when one is recognised as this, more so with a Doctorate degree. A PhD is extremely invaluable, and priceless, hence few people ever achieve that feat in life. But I must state that, I value my prophetic calling more than any degree or qualification on earth”.
Investigations indicate that Therapon University is not recognized by the US government and is not even recognized by the qualifications authority SAQA in South Africa where he lives.
Therapon University, based in Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands claims to have accreditation from American Accrediting Association of Theological Institutions (AAATI) which is also not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the seven official regional accrediting agencies. AAATI is a non-profit Christian organisation described as an “accreditation mill” based in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and was founded by Cecil Johnson, president of Christian Bible College and is described as offering illegitimate academic qualifications for a fee since it is not recognised by US Department of Education.
AAATI is not recognized as an accreditor by either the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. In 1993, Steve Levicoff, a Director of the Institute on Religion and Law, in Ambler, Pennsylvania who served as an adjunct professor at Biblical Theological Seminary and the Philadelphia College of Bible Graduate School wrote that AAATI gave accreditation for a $100 fee with no educational requirement and described it as ‘‘a meaningless accreditation mill sold to schools to avoid appearing to be diploma mills’’ and that such institutions generally have “no academic credibility whatsoever.”
Responding to enquiries, Therapon University admitted that the US government does not recognize their accrediting authority but argued that there is no such requirement because Federal or State accreditation of a religious institution, as civil government has no authority to regulate religious teachings or which certificates or religious degrees they confer upon completion of such education. ‘‘This is a matter of separation of Church and State. Politicians and civil authorities must never be allowed to officially endorse or disapprove directly or indirectly the beliefs and practices of churches or their schools. Our mission is to train born-again believers to serve the Lord in some phase of ministry,’’ reads a statement from the university.
Bushiri himself did not respond to questions from The Botswana Gazette before press time. The publication wanted to establish his relationship with Therapon University and the nature of his educational qualifications.
While it is common for public and private universities to recognize individuals who make notable contributions to society by awarding them honorary doctorate degrees, research has shown that in most cases, the awarding universities have either gained or stand to gain financially from their chosen recipients.
Burlington Free Press writer Tim Johnson compiled a list of every University of Vermont honorary degree recipient from 2002 to 2012. A further investigation also looked into the financial statements of such institutions, to ascertain how much each of those individuals had contributed to the university before they were honoured. He found that of the 60 recipients, 35 were on the record as having made donations to the university, for a total of $13.6 million (an average of $228,248).
He also deduced that aside from flattering wealthy donors, many universities see the honorary degree process as an opportunity to score free publicity. A little over a decade ago, Arthur E. Levine, president of Teachers College at Columbia University admitted that honorary degrees are about two things: money and publicity. “Sometimes they are used to reward donors who have given money; sometimes they are used to draw celebrities to make the graduation special,” he told The New York Times.