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State GOP vice-chair refuses to answer allegations about his Ph.D., diploma mill

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Timothy Johnson, the newly elected vice chairman of the state Republican party, is listed as "Dr. Johnson" on his and the state GOP's Web sites. But he's not a medical doctor or dentist. And he won't disclose where he earned his Ph.D., leaving the impression that he got it from a now-defunct school once notorious as a diploma mill.

The Indy contacted Johnson to ask whether his claimed "Ph.D., Concentration in Total Quality Management, LaSalle University (2000)" was issued by the defunct LaSalle in Louisiana, the accredited La Salle University in Pennsylvania or another LaSalle.

Johnson responded in an e-mail, "I hope you understand when I say I am not going to answer any more questions about my military experience, education background or personal history."

He added: "It just doesn't matter at this point. I am sorry, but enough is enough. Have a great weekend."

His e-mail signature read: "Timothy F. Johnson, Ph.D."

The accredited La Salle University, a Catholic institution with three campuses in Pennsylvania, confers a doctoral degree only in clinical psychology, according to its Web site.

The LaSalle in Louisiana, however, as the authoritative Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2001, operated as a diploma mill from 1986 to mid-1997, essentially selling degrees (it advertised heavily on matchbook covers) until the FBI raided and shut it down. Its owner, Thomas J. Kirk, was imprisoned for mail and tax fraud, among other charges. That "university" employed no faculty, only secretaries to handle the paperwork and the money.

In late '97, according to the Chronicle, the Louisiana LaSalle was purchased by seemingly "serious" owners including the then-chairwoman of the Louisiana Republican party. They later folded LaSalle's assets into their newly formed company, the Orion Education Corp., after failing to win accreditation for LaSalle from the Distance Education and Training Council in 1999.

Johnson's résumé is included on the Web site of Leadership 101, a company that offers him as its CEO and "lead consultant." Leadership 101 lists its business is "training leaders for success in the 21st century."

Johnson, the Web site promises, is "entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring."

Johnson is also employed as an adjunct faculty member at Shaw University's Asheville campus. He was in the U.S. Army from 1984 to 2007 in active and reserve roles, starting as an enlisted soldier and retiring with the rank of major, according to a document he released prior to the state GOP convention when his military service was questioned.

The 1,600 delegates to the GOP convention in Raleigh this month chose Johnson as their No. 2 official, despite the news—widely circulated by his opponents and broken publicly by the Asheville media the week before the convention—that he'd pleaded guilty in 1996 to a felonious assault on his first wife. A resident of Cleveland, Ohio at the time, Johnson received an 18-month suspended sentence contingent on his relocating to Toledo, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. (Johnson was then seeking an Ohio legislative seat as a Democrat.)

Johnson asked convention delegates to forgive his past mistake and, in accordance with his slogan ("It's Time"), make him the first African-American officer in the state GOP since the 19th century.

On the floor of the convention, Johnson campaigned wearing his "Dr. Timothy F. Johnson" name tag despite the rumors already circulating that his doctorate was bogus. At the time, the rumors took a backseat to his criminal record, though, and most delegates seemed to be unaware of questions about his educational background when they voted.

Their attention, moreover, was on the hotly contested race for party chairman, won by former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer. (See "The very, very, very small tent," June 17.)

When he was elected chair of the Buncombe County Republican party in 2008, Johnson did not disclose his criminal record because, he told the Indy in an interview at the convention, it was "nobody's business" except his second wife's, and he did tell her.

Chris McClure, executive director of the state GOP, did not return a phone call or answer an e-mail asking the basis for the party's listing of Johnson, its new vice-chair, as "Dr. Timothy Johnson."

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