The Prince of the Degree Merchants
Earl Anglin Jamen han a hundred and twenty honorary degreen and he didn't give them all to hi nine If
To THE SURPRISE of nobody in particular Earl Anglin James, great Canadian educator and rascal, has turned up again doing business at the same old stand.
A letter has arrived recently from one Charles Oluwafunmi Omosuyi Adegborioye of Nigeria to the Canadian Universities Foundation, the national centre of research and information on higher education. Mr. Adegborioye encloses a copy of his brandnew diploma in public administration from National University College, 62 Wroxeter Avenue, Toronto, signed Earl A. James, president. With it is a copy of an even more resplendent document. To Whom It May Concern, on the letterhead of something called the EAJ Peace Missions, Miami. Florida, which certifies that Mr. Adegborioye has indeed been awarded a diploma in public administration together wdth one in personnel management. Signed: Earl A.
James, Archbishop. Mr. Adegborioye has got the wind up and wants to know if his two degrees and his certificate of authentication are worth the paper they're printed on.
Well, they are worth precisely as much as the degree signed by James with which another Nigerian tried recently to bolster his job application to a Lagos steamship line: the doctorate in mechanical engineering signed by James that an Italian from Parma believed would qualify him for promotion last year; the “Doctor Diploma with the right to append the letters PhD; Subject: Philosophy,” that was granted by James to another liaban student, in 1957; the honorary doctorate in music conferred by James on a resident of North Tonawanda, N.Y., the same year, and the BSc diploma in anatomy, physiology and medical electricity given a South African by James in 1956.
Skimpy reports of these unlikely graduations were the only news Canadian authori-
ties had had of James for some time. And since he works pretty much by mail — and mostly outside of Canada in recent years — they had no idea of his whereabouts. He moves around a lot.
But the documents Mr. Adegborioye thoughtfully supplied with his query make it clear ( I ) that James is, or has recently been, in Florida and (2) that, no matter how far-flung his alumni and how foot-loose James himself, Toronto remains his return address. Which means that good old National U., the all-purpose alma mater, must still be counted—thirty-two-years after its founding — as a flourishing Canadian degree mill.
Academic purists sometimes call an honest institution a “degree mill” when it has got overcrowded and understaffed; the implication is that the student pays his money, goes through a perfunctory process and comes out the other end with a sheepskin. James doesn't run one of these. He runs a real degree mill, or mills.
It's a mail-order operation. Customers are recruited through carefully worded notices in tabloids or trade journals, or by direct mail advertising. They may go through the motions of a correspondence course — or they may get an “honorary” degree, which takes less time but is apt to cost more.
The “tuition fees” for the James version of a university course range from a few dollars up to a thousand. Sometimes there are bargains: at one low point in his career James turned up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, peddling a sort of universal diploma for fifty dollars straight cash. It was already signed and sealed; all the scholar had to do was fill in his name and the degree he aspired to.
James’s “faculty” is not only unqualified; it is largely imaginary. One Toronto resident listed for at least ten years as an officer of National College said recently that he had seen James only once, casually, in the street, during most of that time.
All the “campus” he has is the Wroxeter Avenue address. No. 62 is a narrow, dingy brick-and-frame house in a working-class row in Toronto's east end. It is occupied by James’s mother, now in her eighties. She says belligerently that she does not know where James is to be found.
His “curriculum” can be described as totally indiscriminate. Over the years he has specifically offered the public diplomas in languages, business, public speaking, art, dramatic art, psychology, philosophy. Better English, physics, chemistry, adult education, etiquette, deportment, science, story and music composing, fencing, personality, Esperanto, embalming, target practice, heraldry, archery, hostess-ship, sculptoring, moving picture and still picture hobby, defective speech, receptionist and personality im-
provements for backward, shy and stammering persons. (James writes an inventive but not necessarily literate prospectus.)
His “student body” is made up of innocents — many of them natives of countries where some people still think this is the way college degrees arc got — or lazy cheats. Together the two groups constitute such a rich market these days that according to a recent estimate more than two hundred mills are operating out of the U. S. alone, doing seventy-five million dollars’ worth of business annually.
There’s no particular evidence that James, who is now in his sixties, is bigger or better, or worse, than any of his competitors. But there are some ways in which, in the rich archives of North American chicane, he's a bit of a collector's item, and worth some study.
For one thing he’s spectacularly the best possible customer of his own racket — or its easiest mark, depending on how you look at it.
He's got double handfuls of MAs, PhDs, DDs, LLDs, D Hums., Mus. Bacs., DScs, PsDs and MMSs, not to mention fellowships in fine arts, applied arts and music. In 1943 he boasted to a newspaper reporter that he held the world's record for college degrees: a hundred and twelve from at least a hundred different colleges. (Some were self-bestowed, some were bought from rival degree mills and some were traded as a courtesy between college presidents.) By 1957 he had raised the claim to more than a hundred and twenty. There’s no reason to believe he has stopped there.
His advance in the church has been just
as precipitate. Starting from unassuming “Anglican” he became a “Doctor of Divinity,” then "Bishop of Ontario,” then “Dean of St. Andrew's Ecumenical Church Foundation and University College, London,” and "Dean of St. Andrew’s International Synod with twenty-seven agencies around the world.” Today he is “Laurentius 1. founder, EAJ Peace Missions, Archbishop Primate.” The church affiliation is obscure.
Honors breed honors. So James is also a General of the Legion of Honor, Foreign Minister of Togo, Duke of Scala, Prince of Palma, Prince of the Principality of Thomond (whatever Scala, Palma and Thomond may be) and Sheriff of Chicago. Or so he says.
Even this is not all. Sometime between 1950 and 1957 he also knighted himself.
It’s clear that His Excellency the Right Honorable Doctor Sir Earl Anglin James has wildly over-qualified himself, even for a man in his particular line of work. (After all, some real college presidents get along nicely with quite humble lineage and no more than five degrees.) It's as though humbug were not just a business for him but a whole way of life.
For example, in the mere cause of getting into the movies free he has buttressed his clerical role with self-made credentials in the form of an official-looking pass and a photograph of himself in roman collar standing in front of a church. And when the pass was confiscated on one occasion he instantly wrote a pious letter to the theatre manager requesting its return and saying, among other things, “The pass means so much to me as with it I can be without my clergy collar and strict routine of the clergy dress.”
In aid of free streetcar rides he has gone to the trouble of providing himself with a badge labeled New York International Detective Guard and Investigators’ Registration Service to flash at conductors. When accused therefore of impersonating a police officer in Toronto he argued innocently that he hadn't meant to imply he was a policeman: what he was was the outfit’s chaplain. And besides the badge had been honored in lots of other places.
There is a certain engaging brass, too, in his public relations. Demureness would seem to be the ticket for someone in his line of work; yet he has given a whole series of gratuitous newspaper interviews in which he claimed to be the grandson of the notorious gunman Frank James and a nephew of Jesse James; he even managed to get this yarn, with his photograph, into a national picture magazine, and once traveled across the U. S. saying he was on his way to Hollywood at the request of Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century-Fox to give advice on a new movie featuring the outlaw family. (Zanuck said he didn't know James and wasn’t planning any follow-up on the film about the James boys the studio had made two years before.)
Even early in his career, when he was operating more or less openly in Toronto, he had the same sort of effrontery. The Toronto Better Business Bureau was subjecting him to one of its periodic scrutinies and he complained with all the stiff dignity in
the world, “In Toronto there are those who need investigation but we are not of that sort.” This was a scant month before the Better Business Bureau learned he was telling prospective customers he was a BBB member. It is almost as though the investigation itself had given him the idea.
The way he made capital of his domestic difficulties is strikingly similar. His first move, after the break-up of his marriage to a girl from Sault Ste. Marie, was to bring a hundred - thousand - dollar heart - balm suit against his best man, Albert R. Wood, a Sault Ste. Marie contractor who, in running for parliament, had visited the James's flat to get help with a speech. “I thought he was an educated man," said Wood plaintively at the trial. "He had about fifteen letters after his name and 1 thought they were genuine.” But when the suit was thrown out of court James, with what looks a lot like explicit irony, set himself up in Akron, Ohio, for a time as a marriage counselor. He charged twenty-five dollars a visit.
In fact, once you have the key, it is the utter pertinence of James’s career to himself that makes him interesting. For, if the psychologists are right in saying there’s a class of swindler motivated less by greed than by injured vanity, James has to be a textbook case.
James, the peddler of bogus degrees, couldn't get a simple BA. He couldn't get anywhere near one. It took him eight years, from 1920 to 1928. just to write off his junior matriculation so he could apply for admission to the University of Toronto. After that he had three and a half tries at first year pass arts, which at that time was the equivalent of Grade 13. When he finally withdrew, partway through his first year of real, university-level pass arts, he w'as almost thirty-one and he'd been plugging away for eleven years. “I can see how he might be chagrined,” said the present U of T registrar, on exhuming this record.
James seems to have been born on April 23, 1901, to Elmer Anglin James, a racetrack groom, and his wife, Margaret, in Memphis, Tenn.; but sometime before he began his eight-year siege of Grade 12 the family moved to Toronto. There is evidence that young James was musical; or at least that when he wasn't waiting exams he gave piano lessons.
It was in 1929, the year he flunked all his first-year university exams on his first try, that James gave himself his first degree. It w'as a fellowship in music and he sent an announcement of the honor, together with his photograph, to all the Toronto newspapers. Judging by his picture Earl James, FCCM, was a short, plump, bland young man with dark, wavy hair, a glib mouth and a frank gaze: the kind of young man that in small towns used to be called a go-getter.
He was a go-getter all right, in his way. It was in 1931, the year he failed in his third try at first year pass arts, that James became a college president. He incorporated the National College of Music, Art and Languages under provincial letters patent and named himself its head.
Among the college’s stated purposes were the cultivation
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continuel) of “the science of music and languages” and the granting of “diplomas, and certificates, prizes and awards to students in recognition of their attainments.” He designed a particularly impressive diploma: it was decorated with a list of famous names including those of the Rt. Hon. Arthur Mcighen, Sir William Muiock and Sir Henry Pellatt. It gave the impression that these men were patrons of the college. Some exceedingly fine print identified them more accurately as patrons at recitals given for charity.
James also drew up a prospectus that didn’t bother mincing words: it offered this diploma, twelve by fifteen inches, and the right to append the initials AOC M, to any music or language teacher in the province upon payment of twenty-five dollars.
In the next fifteen years James granted a lot of these diplomas, and other assorted degrees, certificates and credentials. But it's probable that the only person who actually learned anything was James himself.
He learned, which was basic, that there is no patent on academic suffixes and consequently that anyone can stir up a batch for sale, gift, or his own use. He learned that the kind of people who are interested in
taking short cuts in education are not apt to testify against their alma mater: the only complaint lodged with the Better Business Bureau by a client came from a woman who had gone no further than public school and who somehow came to believe that for fifty dollars and six months of her time James could qualify her in child psychology, fencing, hostess-ship and enough senior matriculation subjects to get her into university. After a month she said she was “not satisfiet! with her progress,” but there was no way to recover her money.
James learned that it is easier and safer to peddle a fake PhD than a certificate in a skill or trade, for departments of education can police the teaching of subjects that come under the trade-school regulations but nobody has the power to police the granting of university degrees. For some years James ran an affiliate of his National College, called Educational Schools, specializing in pre-university courses of all kinds. Inevitably it violated the Trade School Regulations Act, the Board of Education caught up with it in 1940, and threatened James with a twenty-fivc-thousand-dollar fine. He had to close it down.
He also, presumably, learned in time that
a correspondence-course college is easier, safer and a lot more portable than one offering token classroom work. For his first ten years he had premises in various parts of downtown Toronto and offered a choice of extramural or intramural guidance. But after he was forced to close Educational Schools he substituted an impressive letterhead and an accommodation address for blackboards and chalk—and found that he was free to travel. Like any Canadian who feels he’s ready for the big time he began commuting to the U. S., where he quickly became known to Better Business Bureaus from one end of the continent to the other.
But even they rather lost track of him about ten years ago. My guess is that that just about marks the point at which James suddenly caught on to the possibilities in international education. Certainly it’s around then that queries about National U. began trickling in from consulates and ministries of education around the world.
And after all many people in Africa and Asia, particularly, arc anxious to upgrade themselves with North American degrees. Who in those parts is apt to know offhand that National University College, Canada, isn't just as good as, say, the University of Western Ontario or even Harvard? I think he’s on to a really good thing.
But Fve been studying that certificate of authentication that Mr. Adegborioye sent along with his letter and his National University College diploma and I’m beginning to wonder if Earl James hasn’t a new project in mind.
It’s the letterhead itself—the EAJ Peace Missions, Miami, letterhead—that is so suggestive. Really, it makes very interesting reading. For example, I notice that the mission was founded “to Perpetuate and Commemorate the Memory of Our Elmer Angiin James, the famous sportsman, worthy of Merit and Honor. Who gained Fame of Queen’s Plate of England and Duke of York Stakes, being Associated with Baron de Rothschild of France . . . etc.” That’s Elmer James, racetrack groom.
Then I notice that under the list of officers there’s an even more imposing list that includes the names of General George C. Marshall, Lord Bertrand Russell and Dr. Albert Schweitzer. If you peer very closely you can see that the list is identified as Nobel Peace Prize Winners, which indeed they are. James is up to his old tricks.
I also notice that James claims to have missions in fifty-four countries bringing “aid in Health, Medicine, Education, Clothing, Food, Brotherhood, Etc.” He makes it sound almost like the Peace Corps. Hmm.
Reading still further, I see that as Archbishop Primate, James has furnished himself with an assistant archbishop, a bishop, a vicar general and even an aide-de-camp. The aide-de-camp’s name is given as Rt. Hon. Count Dr. Bruce Vickers.
And look. There’s a Dr. Colon Eloy Altero. Ambassador, Washington. Ambassador, Washington!
Well, he’s already got his own university, his own church and his own court the same way. 1 suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised that he's starting on his own country. ★