SALEM — Bend's only candidate for governor, Clark Colvin, recently avoided trouble with the state of Oregon by agreeing to stop citing degrees from unaccredited diploma mills.
Now, however, it looks as if another gubernatorial candidate may have his own degree problem: William Ames Curtright, of Marion County.
Both men are long-shot candidates whose bid for the spotlight of state candidacy drew regulatory scrutiny. Curtright, like Colvin before him, has drawn the attention of the state agency that tries to encourage integrity in self-promotion; both men did so by claiming degrees that, technically, don't meet state standards. However, Curtright may face a stiffer penalty because his claims appear in the ballot information going before voters in May.
Colvin, a business consultant who bills himself as one of the nation's top corporate turnaround experts, had listed himself on his company's Web site biography as the recipient of a Ph.D. as well as a doctorate of public administration and a “D. Litt.,” or doctor of letters. However, the schools he listed as sources for two of the degrees are unaccredited. That represented a violation of state law, and subjected him to a potential criminal misdemeanor charge.
After news broke of questions about his degrees, Colvin was ordered to “cease and desist” use of them in an April 5 letter from the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, which enforces laws that forbid anyone in Oregon from claiming an unaccredited educational degree. The law is intended to discourage diploma mills and deceptive self-promotion.
Colvin signed an agreement to stop using his unaccredited degrees, and on April 15 the state office informed him that he was back on the right side of the law. “He sent actually a rather nice note saying he wasn't aware of the problem,” said Alan Contreras, the administrator of the state degree office. “That closes our case with him.”
However, Curtright, who like Colvin is a candidate in the Republican primary, is now facing similar problems. The Oregon secretary of state's office is investigating whether he misrepresented his credentials in material submitted for inclusion in the state voters pamphlet. Intentionally making false statements on an official election document is a Class C felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $125,000 fine.
Curtright, who goes by his middle name, co-founded a company called Ames Research Laboratories Inc., which markets nontoxic paint. On its Web site, it has articles such as “the problem with stucco,” and lists as its author Dr. W. Ames Curtright Ph.D.
Similarly, according to the state elections Web site, Curtright told the state that he is the holder of a “Ph.D. DBA” or “Doctor of Business Administration” from Rivier College, a Catholic institution in New Hampshire.
The college is accredited; however, a review of the college's Web site shows it has no such doctorate program. Angela Valvis, senior records administrator for the college, confirmed that, saying “We've never had a doctoral program in business administration.” Asked about a “Ph.D. DBA,” she said, “There's no such thing.”
Asked about the discrepancy, Curtright said what he received an honorary degree, which was confirmed by the college. Curtright said it was awarded in recognition of his contribution to business and science. Asked how he obtained it, he said “I wrote two papers ... for Rivier, one for business, one for research. ... I presented coursework.”
Asked whether he'd paid for the honor, he said no, adding “That's insulting ... you don't buy degrees.”
He said there is no connection between the honorary degree and his endowment of “The William Ames Curtright '02H Scholarship” at the college. The number after his name appears to refer to the year he received his honorary degree.
On Thursday, Contreras said it's misleading to claim a doctorate when it is not an earned one. He said that because the claim was made on an election document, it could be a felony, and he would inform the secretary of state's office about the matter, adding that “an honorary degree has to be labeled as an honorary degree; he can't claim that as a credential unless it's labeled that way.”
On Friday, Sister Joan Joyal, the Rivier College associate registrar, said she had just been contacted by an investigator with the Oregon secretary of state's office. She said she was concerned to learn of Curtright's use of the degree, which is honorary and is not a Ph.D.
“An honorary degree is not an earned degree,” she said, adding that it sounded as if Curtright was “in a sense, misrepresenting” the nature of his degree.
Curtright pooh-poohed the idea that he had misled anyone by claiming a Ph.D. or doctorate.
“No, that's what I was given,” he said of the doctorate he listed in state election documents. “That's all I have to say: I put down what I have, and that's it.”
A similar investigation last week led to the resignation of West Linn Mayor Patti Galle, who had falsely claimed to be “degreed in English” when running for office in 2008.