TEMPLE TERRACE — Breaking months of silence, Mayor Mel Jurado defended her academic credentials during Tuesday’s City Council meeting against evidence that her Ph.D. came from a diploma mill and that she never received a master’s degree she has claimed to have.
Jurado insisted that in both cases, she did the work required for legitimate degrees — presenting a retired professor from the University of South Florida to back up her Ph.D. claims, and saying she continues seeking proof of the missing master’s degree.
“I did not lie, I did not deceive,” Jurado told a near-capacity audience of about 100 on Tuesday. “My hands are clean. My head is clear, and even now my conscience is quiet.”
She said she has no plans to resign.
Jurado has a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from defunct LaSalle University in Louisiana, an unaccredited diploma mill that was closed down after an FBI raid in 1996.
She has maintained that regardless of the university’s history, she did the work to earn her doctorate.
Supporting her contention Tuesday was Susan McMillan, a retired professor from the University of South Florida who holds a Ph.D. and reviewed Jurado’s 461-page dissertation.
“Dr. Jurado did much more work than most doctoral programs would have required,’’ said McMillan, who served on 43 faculty committees reviewing doctoral dissertations. “In summary, Dr. Mel Jurado did in fact complete a lengthy and appropriate doctoral dissertation as part of her doctoral studies.’’
Jurado had used the title “Dr.” as Temple Terrace mayor and in her private consulting work, but dropped it after the Tampa Bay Times revealed the academic discrepancies in September. After Tuesday’s meeting, the city website was changed to restore “Dr.” to her name.
McMillan referred to Jurado as “Dr.” even though her dissertation was never reviewed by a panel of qualified academics. Instead, Jurado presented the work — on how to boost self-esteem among children in the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa — to a group of local juvenile justice officials and others assembled by the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Jurado holds a bachelor’s degree from Kent State and a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
But she also has claimed a master’s degree in sports medicine from the University of Illinois even though the registrar’s office there reported it had no record of it. She listed the degree on applications for at least two government positions.
Jurado had failed to respond to repeated requests from the Times for proof of the degree, and did not dispute during Tuesday’s meeting that it doesn’t exist.
Her explanation: “Unfortunately, there was a challenge in the registrar’s office reporting on my second course of study.”
She said she is still pursuing the matter: “I continue to work to uncover all records.”
Sports medicine, Jurado said, was her main course of study at the University of Illinois.
“It was in fact the applied life sciences college, also referred to as sport, sports psychology, physical education, sports medicine, education physiology.”
The department, she said, provided the subjects where she did research leading to her master’s thesis, titled, Motivation to Continue Physical Activity in the Third Phase Cardiac Rehab Program.
“Records have been recorded demonstrating this is the department that accepted me to the University of Illinois graduate program,” Jurado said. “This is the department that paid my tuition the entire time I was at the university. This is the department that employed me as a teaching assistant while at the University of Illinois. They provided my office space.”
Jurado on Tuesday also defended her decision to pay a $750 fine from the Florida Department of Health for calling herself “Doctor,” likening the action to a traffic citation.
She said the fine resulted from an allegation to the department by “Temple Terrace instigators” whom she did not identify.
“I was informed by the local office that I could probably prevail if I took the day and a-half to go to Tallahassee and expend money for a hearing,” Jurado said. “I chose to pay a citation, just as some might do when faced with a traffic citation. The matter was resolved in under 15 minutes.”
She also spelled out the type of work she said she is qualified to do in her private consulting, saying “I am an I/O practitioner,” an acronym for industrial/organizational.
“I am not a clinician,” she said. “I do not have nor have I ever had patients. I provide training and development activities for businesses.’’
Jurado once again was a main topic of the public forum segment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, as she was at a stormy meeting Oct. 16 when supporters praised her work as mayor and some critics called for her to resign.
In an unusual action Tuesday, City Manager Charles Stephenson asked the City Council to begin enforcing a meeting rule that people be treated in a courteous manner during the public forums and refrain from abusive comments.
At that point, Edelyn Verona rose from the audience to object that Stephenson had interrupted the time set aside for the public.
Later, as Verona stood at the podium, a man in the audience rose to tell Verona she was being rude.
Police Chief Ken Albano intervened and the man sat down.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect amount of a fine paid by Mayor Mel Jurado.