How can a high school exist without paid teachers? That’s a very good question, but apparently it’s not a real concern for Michael R. Kinney.

New York Times writer Duff Wilson has reported that the owner of University High School defends his school’s educational practices and denies any wrongdoing despite the fact that a November 2002 internal balance sheet for the school showed $11,385 for office salaries, $64,205 for advertising, but no spending for instructors.

The objective of most schools is to educate students. However, a few schools exist solely for the purpose of making money. (The New York Times reported that University High earns about $500,000 in annual revenue.) In such schools, learning seems to be of secondary importance.

This is the reason accreditation agencies were born. Without their setting high standards for educational institutions, it would be difficult to know which diplomas are bogus and which ones represent a legitimate degree.

You might ask, “Who would want a bogus degree?” Haven’t you ever been tempted to take a shortcut? Sometimes shortcuts save time and energy. But other times, in taking shortcuts, we rob ourselves of the hard work necessary to achieve a goal legitimately. In doing so, we compromise our integrity, and we pass ourselves off as someone other than who we really are.

Michael Kinney is teaching high school teenagers how to take a shortcut to college. He has set up what appears to be a high school diploma mill, a school which offers crip courses for a fee, a guaranteed way for students with low grade point averages to raise them enough to become eligible for a Division I sports program in a relatively short period of time.

According to the Times article, 28 high school football players have degrees from University High School. The Times found 14 of them on 11 teams at Division I schools.

Kinney boasts of the loopholes he’s found in the NCAA’s guidelines. Nowhere do they say that an institution has to have paid teachers. Clearly the NCAA believed they’d be dealing with people of integrity. Expect some tightening of their rules in the near future.

Several years ago my mother chaired a search committee for a new pastor of her small church in a rural south Alabama town. To her surprise one applicant had a doctorate. She called to ask me about the school the man had listed as his alma mater. I laughed and said: “Mother, I believe if you’ll do a little homework you’ll find that the school is not an accredited school. This man has gone out and bought himself a phony degree.”

My mother was appalled to think that a man who wanted to preach the gospel in her church would try to pass himself off to the church with a phony degree.

Though I believe a call to preach is a call to become as educated as possible, there have been more than enough good preachers with very little education. The Scripture says that when the people heard Peter and John preach and “realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

Not long after my mother’s experience with this matter, an ad appeared in my community inviting people to enroll in a local seminary and receive advance degrees, including a doctorate. The ad stressed the convenience of learning the Bible while studying at home and gave a long list of subjects in which one could study. The office for this “seminary” was set up in a basement of a home.

I called the number that was listed and had a conversation with the owner of the school. I asked him what accreditation agency gave his school their credentials. He talked all around that question for a while.

I then told him my mom’s story. I told him how appalled she was to discover that a man who wanted to preach in her pulpit would go out and purchase a degree and parade himself as a “Rev.” or “Dr.” I told him I believed others would be equally appalled to have him set up such a “seminary” in our community. I said, “You can personally count on me to spread the word that this school is nothing more than a sham.” As far as I know, the school is no longer here.

Whatever one is called to be and do, he or she should be as adequately trained as possible.

Whether it’s teenagers who aspire to earn a college education and play college sports, whether it’s men or women who aspire to be ministers and preach the gospel, or whether it’s any other kind of occupation or position that requires certification or earning the proper credentials, if we teach others that such a goal can be achieved by taking shortcuts and getting one’s credentials through unethical means, we have crippled them.

We have taught them that a lack of integrity is fine if it helps us reach our goals; that the way to the top may be to go around the rules; that the ends justify the means; and that loopholes are made to be taken advantage of, even if it’s ethically wrong to do so.

Every time a diploma from one of these schools is handed out to a student it comes with a price. The students pay for the diploma. But exchanging money for the diploma isn’t the last time they pay. They will continue to pay for that diploma throughout life because they have been taught to seek other achievements in the same way–through a lack of integrity.

A lack of integrity will rot the foundation of a person’s character until eventually the core is exposed for all to see. Unfortunately, once exposed, many will be like the owner of University High School and still not think they have done anything wrong.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. He has a master’s degree from Southern Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. His column appears in the Moultrie Observer.

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