A new Doctor of Divinity talks: Online versus Face to Face Degrees


A long time ago a D.D. (Doctor of Divinity) was a prestigious title bestowed by Church on the basis of outstanding works of faith or by institutions of higher learning (namely Oxford) after the candidate had completed a Ph.D. and went on to become a scholarly authority on Religious Studies. It is the oldest of the “higher doctorates” (Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Science, and Doctor of Letters).

Last night, under the influence of too much caffeine and sugar, with a wife whose divinely inspired celestial nocturnal sounds are the equivalent of a Snorlax’ sound attack, and nearly on the verge of loosing all of my power of reason, I became an Ordained Minister and got the title Doctor of Divinity.

Getting a Doctor of Laws (Legum Doctor, or Ll.D.) is REALLY hard. The only university who offers it through study is the University of Malta, and it’s amazingly hard to complete. Some other institutions might award honorary Ll.D. degrees based on publication and accomplishments, but it’s increasingly hard. Likewise, the Doctor of Science is only awarded to post-doctoral scientists whose contributions to the field are outstanding. By outstanding I mean something like “I have discovered the cure to AIDS”. The “easiest” to get (at least to a lit. and languages guy like me) is the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) with various options available: 1. After you complete a Ph.D. and have published enough stuff and have been publishing for 10 – 15 years, you submit your portfolio for review. If you’re lucky, the examiner board at Oxford, Cambridge, or another equally impressive institution will grant it. 2. Go to Drew University’s doctoral program. Although it only requires 30 credits of coursework (9 less than in most other Ph.D. programs), a few people have said that writing a dissertation with them is horrible. 3. Find a university that offers a D.Litt et Phil doctoral program – a Dissertation-only Ph.D. The University of South Africa (a 100+ year old institution that began as an extension of Cambridge for white South Africans) offers extremely solid D.Litt. et. Phil. programs on various disciplines. You know they’re for real when people have said things like “I started with them on a thesis on X topic, but the ranking member of the university left, and the ones that are still there don’t know about my topic, so the University told me to stop my studies until they get someone who is an authority on the field”. In short, a higher doctoral degree is possibly the greatest recognition that a scholar could get outside of a Nobel Prize.

The Doctor of Divinity used to be the most senior of these. With only the Vatican and old universities having the authority to bestow these, they were an extremely coveted prize. Now, however, every “online ministry” has the “legal authority” to “bestow” these.

Last night it took me 5 minutes to “become ordained” (under the influence of caffeine and sugar-induced insomnia) and 5 more minutes to become a “Doctor of Divinity”. I chose this one because it was the cheapest one (free ordainment!!!) and nicest looking one. There are, however, a number of “religious institutions” online who will not hesitate to sell Doctors of Divinity to individuals. Sure, they require a 1 page testimony on how you became Christian / were touched by god / became spiritual / came in touch with the Goddess, etc, but that isn’t really important for them. What they care is that you pay them 10 – 50$ if you want a hard copy of it.

With this recent practice, the D.D. title, it seems to me, has lost much of its prominence. Sure, if someone shows me legit credentials from The Vatican or from Oxford (or another similar authority) that they are a Doctor of Divinity I will defer to their academic authority. However, those are exceedingly rare, and most of them likely live inside the Vatican. This recent experience, however, has gotten me thinking of something far more concerning than the downgrading of a specific “Higher Doctorate” title – and that is Online Education as a whole.

The Internet has changed the way we do a lot of things – from watching TV (youtube) to listening to music (custom radio at Pandora), and even how we do journalism / keep journals / publish ideas. [SHAMELESS PLUG] WordPress, for example, is a prime example of this. Through this platform (and other less efficient ones) we are able to share our ideas with more than just our friends and relatives [END OF PLUG]. The internet has also allowed us to change the way we study.

The series of tubes  known as Teh Internetz has allowed for the growth of universities who offer degrees, often even post-graduate doctoral degrees – completely online. The fact that the student is not experiencing the content through active class participation, however, detracts a lot from the university experience. However, with some employers’ lack of care for appropriate credentials, these online schools have devalued several degrees. This is not true of all disciplines or of all cases (I’m sure a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard will trump a Doctor of Business Administration any day), but in the case of some of the better, yet less known, institutions, this seems troubling. I’d like to comment on the example of the University of Puerto Rico.

Certainly, UPR as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Facilities could use improvement, some of the technology is sub-par, and the parking is beyond hell. Education, however, is excellent (at least in the colleges I studied). The English Department has scholars who trained in Cambridge, University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Texas, Rutgers, and other top universities. Likewise, the School of Education has scholars who trained in some of the world’s top universities. I’ve even heard of some Harvard Law graduates teaching in its School of Law. I’ve also been told that the College of Natural Science has some sort of Nobel Prize guy working there. UPR is the top school to go to in the Caribbean. Its linguistics program is one of the best in the world, its Caribbean literature Ph.D. rivals Rutgers’ its school of medicine is top 25 in the US, and its School of Engineering is 13th in the US. However, in a lot of the US, and throughout the world, it is a relatively unknown school. This makes people perceive its degrees as less than they are worth, to the point where a few days ago someone compared the UPR Ed.D. to Walden University’s Ed.D. Really? Most online Ed.D.s take 3 years to complete, have less coursework than the UPR Ed.D., and don’t have a practicum. I’m sure that this is something that has happened to a lot of people from some of the smaller research universities. “Ah, a Pharm.D. that’s like Strayer University’s online thing” or whatever. The case becomes much worse when going into the business professional degree, the MBA, which has now become obsolete (once again, with the exception of Harvard-like universities) because of the abundance of DBAs in the market. By giving reduced coursework, easier tests, and forced time constraints, for-profit online universities have diminished the value of university degrees. When anyone can complete their MBA 5 years out of high school, the MBA looses its validity. Luckily, some (not all) of these universities at least have a pre-requisite of “have the previous degree”, but, once again, if you can finish a BA in 3 years and an MA in 2, the whole university experience is lost.

This does not mean, however, that all online schools are bad. I would rather hire an online Ed.D. to teach than someone with an Ed.D. from… one of the less selective fact-to-face universities that I know of… and I’m sure I’ll be caught dead before I say that the online degrees offered by the University of Florida, Penn State, or UC Berkley are worthless… but I also know that a face-to-face Penn State degree is worth more than the online one, just as I’m sure that a face-t-face from a state university of less ranking, say University of Nebraska, is worth more than the online Penn State one. The same can be said for the online degrees from the UNISA or other institutions of the same level. UNISA was founded over 100 years ago as an extension of Cambridge / Oxford and is now recognized as offering the best distance education in the world.  It ranks among the top 600 universities in the world, which is not bad considering that there are over 10,000 institutions of higher learning. Given that UNISA outranks Drew by over 1,000 spots, I would argue that their D.Litt. et. Phil is worth more than the Drew D.Litt.

Yet I’m sure it would be better if it were face-to-face.

So, with a diminished value of doctoral degrees, especially professional ones (Ed.D., J.D., Pharm.D.etc) where does that leave us?  With “Brick and Mortar University Snobbery”. I read in a forum last night (a few hours before I became a Doctor of Divinity) a guy who ranted that “brick and mortar Ph.D.s were snobs who looked down on him but he was better even though his degree was online because he had experience” and so on. Experience is indeed an important thing. However, so are credentials. Experience can be questioned. Online degrees can be questioned. Real PhDs. cannot be. In academia it will never be the same to say “I am John Smith, Ed.D. from AIUOnline” (A university whose name sounds more like a game) than to say “I am John Smith, a contemporary Ph.D. from the University of Texas / Wisconsin / California.” Likewise, it’s not the same to say “I am a UTA Ph.D.” (something which I am very much looking forward to saying) than to say “I am an Ivy League Ph.D.” Even though Ivy League is famous for producing wealthy dropouts like Bill Gates and the Facebook guy, it must be granted that academics who finish there are as intellectually amazing as the best from UT or Univ. of Wisconsin. (In my opinion, the only scholar as impressive as my mentor Michael Sharp, a Univ. of Wisconsin Ph.D., is Tim Morris, my current graduate advisor and a Princeton Ph.D.) That being said, yes, I am an academic snob. I believe, like my mentor in linguistics Nick Faraclas, that universities are like gatekeepers. They give everyone the opportunity to try their best and learn a certain set of skills. If they can’t master these skills, then they are shut out. This, I think, should be true of all universities. Everyone should have the opportunity to try and give it their all, but I don’t think someone who, for example, has a bad grasp of numbers and logic and abstract thinking should be able to complete their degree in physics, just as I don’t think someone with little powers of reasoning or analytic faculty should have a literature degree. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through a practicum or extensive teaching experience should be an Ed.D. Online universities (or at least many of them) have turned studying into some sort of non-study thing where you pay for a course, do some take home tests, and get a degree. 

That being said, I don’t think distance learning is a bad thing. When done properly it can be a powerful thing, no doubt equal in quality as face-to-face degrees. However, doing things “at your own pace” is not the way to go.

I won’t even comment on buying degrees for actual use. I am a Doctor of Divinity. I got it online for free. It is NOT a real credential and not one I will be putting in my CV, but it’s fun to put it up on Facebook and seeing how people react to it.

I guess that in the end what I’m saying in this:

 Real Higher Doctorate > Real Ph.D. > Real Research Only Doctorate > Real Professional Doctorate > Real Master’s Degree / Online Doctoral Degree > Real Bachelor’s Degree / Online Master’s Degree > Online Bachelor’s Degree.

 Exceptions:

Excellent Online Universities which rank with their real counterparts.

Really horrible face-to-face degrees which rank below their online counterparts.

That being said, I don’t know if the Universal Life Chrch Monestary where I “was ordained” is really trying to come off as legit thing or not. They say they are not accredited, are not a university, and that their degrees are not academic, but they say that they really ordain you and you can perform wedding ceremonies in the name of whatever god you see fit… even if it’s the medichlorean god, I guess, since they also “grant titles” such as “monk”, “prince”, “high priest”, “jedi knight”, “vicar”, “bish…”… wait, Jedi Knight? That’s right. For 6$ + S&H you can become a “real” Jedi Knight. At least as real a Jedi Knight as I am a Doctor of Divinity.

At any rate, now that I’m ranting, I’m out. Ya’ll have a good one.

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on August 23, 2010, in Education Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. First off, “The Monastery” isn’t the seminary but is a knock-off of the seminary which requires the coursework and active work to get the D.D. title.
    However, I do agree, and have found several other sites online that will sell you the Doctor of Divinity paper for 10-50 dollars. The frustration then becomes why did I work so long to earn my Doctorate of Divinity based upon academic achievements and works. I have had to progress through two Master’s Degrees (Comparative Religion and Religious Philosophy), do gratuities for the sake of the work and effort, prove the veracity of my Theosophical Studies, write two academic courses, and have read over 30,000 books, thousands of discourses and essays, and do the historical research to document the veracity of my written and oratory presentations.
    For all of this, I have earned a Doctorate of Divinity based upon skills obtained, professionalism, journalism, written works, oratory, and gratuity works. Any individual can go to any “knock-off” but legally recognized “ministry related business” and buy one, all the while DE-valuing the 20+ years of study and work that was required of me. Others are given Honorarium Doctorates for being “public” figures without ever achieving anything more than mass-production religious materials with “pop” themes and little substance or for charitable donations to a facility, but these are known to be different from academically or experientially earned Doctorate Degrees…
    I agree completely that one must measure the value of a individual if and only if the time is taken to truly measure the skill, learnedness, and personage whom the individual actually is. I wish others understood the difference. I have been subject to insult and defamation simply because the “impersonations” are so prevalent that the legitimate has lost value and reputation.
    Thank you for your “rant”,
    Dr. Eric D. Keefer, D.D.

    • Thank you for reading and for the excellent reply. I wasn’t aware that many institutions still awarded the D.D. title. That being said, I’m aware that historically that has been one of the toughest titles to obtain – I admire your dedication.

      Bests,

      – J

      • I think the religious world knows the difference between the one that was worked for and the one that’s mail order. However in the middle there are a few Metaphysics schools, who are respected, that make you work very hard to get granted a religious degree. You’ll work for 18 months and write two dissertations and the degree you get is a DD or Philosophy of Metaphysics PhD and that degree is worth as much as the one you showed above because they all grant it the same way based solely on being ordained into their ministry. So now, even though I’m enrolled in two of those schools for about a grand each I suddently don’t feel like doing the work of 15,000 words if it’s gonna be taken as seriously as a Universal Life Church purchased degree.

        I’ve decided to go for an accredited Bachelors Of Theology degree.

    • Randall Corley

      Obtaining a Doctor of Divinity title through years of traditional, theological study to prepare one to share a message in which they feel truly passionate is definitely something admired by those who choose a religion-based or biased definition of the words, “deity”, “divinity”, “love”, “spirit”, “spiritual” and “spirituality”. Many people, myself included, strongly feel that this closed-minded, ego-based thinking fuels indifference, judgement and feelings of superiority; emotions that rip humanity apart. Throughout history, every war that has ever occurred can be traced back to biased thinking. If you research the word, “spirit”, you will find it relating only to love, all that connects to love and everything that results from it. And if you research the word, “love”, you will discover only one, authentic love. Relationships may be conditional, but there is only one love and it is free, unconditional, and never ending. It is not something given or something that can be taken away. It is a feeling; a state of mind that never asks for anything in return. So is spirituality. Nourishing your spirit is not rocket science. And it doesn’t require years of expensive, theological instruction. It also is not taught by the big business of organized religion. Your spirituality belongs to you. The only way to nourish yourself spiritually, is to quiet your ego. And the only way to you quiet your ego is to abandon fear and live a life of authentic love. And instead of forgoing this life, for the promise of a better one after physical death, you will feel completely at home, in this moment and in this world. And this is my message…

      With Love, Dr. Randall Corley D.D.

  2. @ Mark Yes, it’s always better to go for an accredited degree regardless of the field.

  3. The issue becomes one of work ethic versus “payment”. Ironically, at any given time there are somewhere between 35-65% of government employees, depending on which division they are working in that have “paid” diplomas. (can almost tell it too by the way governments are functioning). A word of caution about “Theology Degrees”. Almost all theology schools are running under a “Religious Exception”, and those accredited and/or certified are rare, expensive, and locations are few.
    I pursued my coursework as a follow-up to other degrees which had netted me the “prerequisite” courses a long time ago. (multiple associates degrees and a bachelors). The actual Seminary for ULC was California Certified until the state cut the funding for that agency and still operates under the same format and restrictions. You do the work, prove your knowledge, get the degree…if you don’t, payment still earns you nothing.
    There are a couple of others that operate this way as well.
    Again, it is important to take measure of an individual’s knowledge, experience, countenance, and capacity in all aspects of our interactions today. There are those graduating from accredited universities costing tens of thousands of dollars, from all ranges of excellence who wouldn’t be fit to change the ink in a printer/copier.
    It is the worth of the man, not the expense of the education we must pay attention to today. Even those that are considered great academic universities are graduating misinformed, unaware, and useless individuals when it comes to being human and working toward the improvement of society. In their fields they are graduating with blinders on, working in little boxes of expectations and limitations set by previous academics, hence the loss of real knowledge and ideas. We are left with repetitions of things that haven’t worked for nearly 100 years as well as generations of graduates incapable of breaking out of the destructive cycle for lack of real wisdom but extremely heavy in education (teaching others to think the way you wish them to, by definition.)

  4. Rev.. Karl Benson, D.D.

    There is a large portion of our world who have made the choice to accept the lie, to take the short cut, to devalue truth for wealth, fame, and status.

  5. On the flip-side I am doing a Bachelor of Divinity from Australia through the University of London’s International Program. I have attempted to do an on-campus degree in religious studies and philosophy previously but was thwarted by vocational needs, extensive travel, financial considerations and also family commitments. Further, I could not find a degree in which I was overly interested.

    As a consumer, and as a result of my hard work, financial security and maturity that comes of now 48years on earth, I wish to return to study but the $30,000 cost of an Australian degree, time and (in my opinion) uninteresting subjects sees me looking oversees at Heythrop College. Family, financial common sense, and my age precludes me attending the campus as much as I love my trips to London, but distance learning is very manageable and affordable for me, let alone an attractive range of units offered.

    So in 3 years time, after much hard work studying (on my own), after 10 exams and after one dissertation, I shall find myself with a qualification that *I* want. I will also find myself with a few additional vocational skills, a sharper mind and a more informed outlook on many things. This degree’s value is for me to assess as the consumer, Although it may impress a prospective employer, it is not for that purpose I spend time and effort on obtaining a B.Div through Heythrop in this mode of learning.

    I am employed in the community sector so this qualification will get me nothing more than the job for which I am already qualified through experience. Where academics comment about dishonesty I cannot relate. With all respect, at the end of the day a PhD is useful for what…? An appointment in education or at a high level in the relative field of study. You cannot tell me seriously that an online Doctorate is going to be taken seriously by any employer for whom a PhD level of learning and knowledge is required to fill a position or further humanity.

    So… a free online PhD might be used by someone as a bit of self-marketing hype. It might be used to obtain a higher pay-rate or position. But at the end of the day it will always be a means of getting a foot in the door – not keeping it in there. Proof is in the pudding ladies and gentlemen, and with changing economic fortunes and globalisation, the education system is going to have to reinvent itself to become useful, relevant and valued. That includes addressing the ‘value’ of ‘parchments’ to both consumers and the world.

    with greatest respect

    Kath

  6. Obtaining a Doctor of Divinity title through years of traditional, theological study to prepare one to share a message in which they feel truly passionate is definitely something admired by those who choose a religion-based or biased definition of the words, “deity”, “divinity”, “love”, “spirit”, “spiritual” and “spirituality”. Many people, myself included, strongly feel that this closed-minded, ego-based thinking fuels indifference, judgement and feelings of superiority; emotions that rip humanity apart. Throughout history, every war that has ever occurred can be traced back to biased thinking. If you research the word, “spirit”, you will find it relating only to love, all that connects to love and everything that results from it. And if you research the word, “love”, you will discover only one, authentic love. Relationships may be conditional, but there is only one love and it is free, unconditional, and never ending. It is not something given or something that can be taken away. It is a feeling; a state of mind that never asks for anything in return. So is spirituality. Nourishing your spirit is not rocket science. And it doesn’t require years of expensive, theological instruction. It also is not taught by the big business of organized religion. Your spirituality belongs to you. The only way to nourish yourself spiritually, is to quiet your ego. And the only way to you quiet your ego is to abandon fear and live a life of authentic love. And instead of forgoing this life, for the promise of a better one after physical death, you will feel completely at home, in this moment and in this world. And this is my message…

    With Love, Dr. Randall Corley D.D.

    • Those are all valid and excellent points. However, if you research the word “Doctor”, you will find that it has always been a term used to describe those who succeed at completing a doctoral-level course in a field. The term implies deep studies and knowledge of the subject at hand – subjects that can range from physics to theology. Indeed, having sincerely held spiritual beliefs do give people a certain outlook on life that many others don’t have, and I honestly don’t see any rational person arguing that love is anything but one of the most wonderful qualities a person can have. However, being spiritual and loving others does not make one a doctor. That only comes with years of study.

  7. Dr. Andrew Coon

    See, I find this to be a legit concern. But, as an individual who has a BA
    in Political Science and a PHD in History….. It devalues my accomplishments.
    Although, I have an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from a REAL college. I.E. a public institution. One guy I know who puts most people to shame when it
    comes to intellectual attributes… Only had a BA before West Virginia State conferred upon him a DD honoris causa. He deserves the title doctor. His knowledge obtained by undergraduate and autodidactic study dwarfed most PHD’s I know.

  8. Dr. Andrew Coon

    I should say that a dissertation written for online study…… Eh?
    I wouldn’t see how a commitee could be formed and proper dissertation
    supervision could be carried out. Then, the issue of defense comes up. Where would the candidate go to defend his research? The Internet? I wouldn’t think a perspective employer would be disingenuous for thinking that a PHD obtained via distance learning to be devalued. At least, to some degree anyway. I would hope that we can all agree as long as one does not proport
    himself to be an MD what harm can come of this. I do believe one should at the very least have to include the following: Dr Andrew S. Coon Ph.D, D.D. Or something similar…

  9. This is a interesting conversation indeed. I just remembered the topic of one Maya Angelou… This is a contentious topic amongst many academics and intellectuals. One can argue that her contributions to civil rights, literature and African American relationships could be a justification for the conferral of the title Doctor. But, I do find some of her work to be somewhat racist at its heart. If you think that you may want to write something in regards to this topic. I would love the chance to collaborate. I have mixed feelings on this topic.

  10. iPhone writing haha. Disconcerting to say the least.

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