Press 2 for St. John's University
Anyone who wants to find out more about St. John's University – no, not the one in New York, but the obscure one near Springfield, La., where Florida juvenile justice secretary Walt McNeil (left) got his master's degree in 2002 (see Saturday's St. Petersburg Times story here) – will easily find a phone number through Google, but not much more. And if you call, you’ll get a voice mail message that directs you to press 1 for Dr. Winkler, 2 for St. John's University and 3 for the Congregational Church.
The Gradebook pressed 2 a few weeks ago, and left a message.
A woman called back, but declined to give her name and refused to say which organization accredited St. John's. She did say, though, that a 1989 Florida law which attempted to criminalize the claiming of degrees from schools like St. John's (which isn't accredited by any entity recognized by the U.S. Department of Education) was "punitive." "I don't know anybody in your state who is happy with that legislation. I don’t know an employer. I don’t know a university," she said. "It implies if you don't have a certain type of accreditation, your accreditation is fraudulent, which is obviously lacking in thought as to what accreditation really means."
More than a week later, The Gradebook left another message. This time, when the same woman called back she identified herself as Dr. Pam Winkler, the widow of St. John's founder Arthur Winkler (read about him here) and herself a retired St. John's president (read about her here, at the Galactic Expo). Winkler said it was university policy not to answer questions except in writing, and then proceeded to jot down a long list of dictated questions. A few hours later, she faxed over a 2-page press release that did not respond to many of the questions. Instead, it congratulated McNeil on his appointment, by Gov. Charlie Crist, to the DJJ post.
The press release also said St. John's "was widely known and respected for extensive and comprehensive criminal justice, security administration and anti-terrorism curriculum. Busy law enforcement professionals who sought to advance their academic degrees found St. John's University's distance learning to provide the largest and most comprehensive police science and criminal justice curriculum in the world." McNeil was the Tallahassee police chief when he got his master's from St. John's. It's in criminal justice.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter