Saturday, April 23, 2005

Am I Getting the Third Degree?

Actually, I found out yesterday that I might not completely have gotten my second degree. Rather, a phone call I received at around 9:30 AM on Friday [note:I had previously and mistakenly written Thursday], from Ms. P. J. Lassek of the Tulsa World, sent what had been a carefully planned day into a tailspin.

I had just sat down at my home-office computer to do some graphics work for a friend, when my cell phone began to play my chosen ring-tune, the theme to the 1960's TV series, "Route 66." I picked up the phone and looked at the caller ID. When I saw it was Ms. Lassek, I sighed, figuring that she was calling for a follow-up comment on the Gueirwoods Plat vote that had taken place at the council meeting the night before. I collected my thoughts and answered.

The conversation that followed could not have been more surprising. Long and short of it was, Ms. Lassek was writing a story for this Sunday's edition and wanted to get my comment. However, she wasn't writing about the plat. Rather, she wanted comment on allegations that had been made by an unnamed source (someone associated with the recall rabble, I'm sure) that said that despite my numerous claims to have a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Tulsa, that in actuality, I did not have such a degree.

I was stunned. The only thing more shocking to hear would've been to have been told something to the effect of, "Your campaign literature claims that you have been married to your wife Cheryl for 25 years, but we can find no record of your marriage." Just as I had, in 1979, stood before a Baptist preacher who was more nervous than I, and repeated wedding vows, I knew that I had gone to TU for a year and a half, and studied in the Graduate Business School.

For a brief moment, I knew I had chosen the wrong ring-tune for my phone. A better 1960's TV theme would've been "The Twighlight Zone," which I ironically already had downloaded.

Needless to say, it took some time for me to collect my thoughts, as my mind was swimming. I would go back and forth from trying to figure out what SNAFU could possibly have lead to a rather thorough reporter making such an assertion, to who might have "monkeyed" with my transcript. Trust me, when you're under the glare of scrutiny I find myself under, you begin to believe the opposition will stoop to almost anything. Given that I've stepped on some pretty important toes, over the past year, my mind could easily have dreamt up several scenarios.

However, I reminded myself of the wisdom of Ockham's Razor, which is a principle which is often interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable. As such, I took a couple of deep breaths, put some oxygen back into my brain, and reasoned that human error was most likely the culprit. The question merely remained, what was the error and who had made it.

Ms. Lassek, as always the thorough interviewer began offering her own postulates. She was forced to theorize, since she had quickly informed me that the university's Registrar was anything but cooperative. Privacy laws dictated that the only thing that the school could confirm was the time period during which I studied and that "they could not verify that Chris Medlock had received an MBA from the University of Tulsa."

"Could it have been an unpaid parking ticket," Ms. Lassek threw out. "Maybe unpaid tuition?"

My mind raced, but I never received a ticket and I was on full scholarship for the entire time I studied there, so I never owed tuition in the first place.

Lassek also tried to trap me by stating emphatically, "you knew controversial and in the spotlight as you are...that this would eventually be found out. You knew that, right?"

To which I replied, something along the lines of, "P.J., I would've had to have known that "this" had happened to know that it would have come out."

[Note to P.J., whom I'm sure will read this, the exchanges above are the best of my recollection, given how knocked off balance I was, so if your tape recorder says different, let me know and I'll correct any misquote as soon as I can find some dark and dank corner of my web site to equal the nether regions that the World uses to bury its corrections.]

Anyway, let's make a long story short. After hanging up with Lassek, I called the TU Registrar's office and got a very nice and very professional woman named Jinna Langston. She greeted me by saying, "I thought I'd be hearing from you some time soon."

She told me that she couldn't give me any information over the phone, so I would have to come down to the campus to get filled in. I told her that the paper was running the story on Sunday, so that I would need, if possible, to come in that day. She said, "no problem," and we set up an appointment for 1:00 PM that afternoon.

I was a little late arriving, after having a hard time finding the right building and then finding a parking space. Ms. Langston had stepped out for a few minutes by the time I got there, so I had to wait on a couch in the reception area until she arrived.

When we finally got into her office, she quickly pushed a photocopy of my transcript across her desk, pointing with her pen at a particular line item.

"Here's the problem," she calmly relayed. "You have an "I" [incomplete] on your transcript for this class."

The class was International Marketing, which I took in the Spring semester of 1992. I remembered the class well, because part of the curriculum was a trip to visit businesses in London, Brussels and Paris, that had local ties.

Immediately I began trying to recreate the environment of that time. I took two classes the following Summer, so that I could graduate as quickly as possible. During that same Summer, I had secured a 40-hour per week internship with TD Williamson, Inc., doing marketing analysis. TDW was one of the companies we had visited when in Brussels. Despite working from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday at TDW, I had twice as many courses as was normally allowed and I had to work 10 to 15 hours per week in the computer lab to earn my scholarship and stipend.

In other words, I was a busy guy. My wife remembers almost never seeing me during this two month period.

As I pushed aside the cobwebs of my memory, I remembered that I had requested the "I" in the class, because I hadn't had a chance to complete a paper that was worth [once again, a fuzzy memory] something like 15-20% of the grade. As I recall, I had a low "A" in the class, so if I didn't turn in the paper, I would be dropped to a "C."

My overall GPA was just over 3.5 at the time, and I was afraid that a "C" might have caused me to drop below the level needed to graduate with honors. [Actually, my fuzzy memory tells me that 3.75 was necessary for honors, but that some other term was reserved for 3.5+]

The bottom line is this. The university never released my transcript, because of the 'incomplete.' I never learned of the fact, because I finished my two Summer classes, receiving a "B" in both. At the end of the semester, TDW offered me a permanent position with the company as a Marketing Analyst. While the money wasn't spectacular, the opportunity was, and besides, the salary looked damned good after living on a $600/month stipend.

Because I graduated in August, there was no Commencement Service in which to walk, until May. By that time, I was well into my new career and had just bought the house I currently live in. I didn't apply for my diploma, because my undergraduate diploma was [and still is] in its original leather holder in a box in my closet.

Hard as it is for some to believe, I wasn't after the sheepskin, I was after the opportunity for a career that the education afforded me. So, for 13 years, I went on thinking that I had done all I needed to do to claim "having and MBA from the University of Tulsa."

At worst, what I have learned is, I am but one paper short of just that. I have all of the education and knowledge that comes from having taken the academic journey, except for what would've been attained from the process of finishing a half-completed report.

Because the professor for the course, Dr. Neidell, is in China right now, I'm not able to see what options are available to me. I remember Dr. Neidell as very smart [MIT I seem to recall], a little bit of a stickler for detail, but otherwise very affable. He was very knowledgeble about the companies we had visited, since he had taken several classes on similar trips over the years.

I too, can be a bit of a stickler. I am prepared to be told that the "incomplete" has languished to long for me to be given any credit. If this is the case, I will try to see what can be done so that I can finish this, once and for all.

The University of Tulsa has been incredibly generous to me. By making me a Mayo Scholar, I was able to, at a relatively advanced time in my life, study and achieve a degree [almost, as we have now learned] that has changed my life. Whatever they determine must happen will be more than appropriate and I would never try to blaim the school or anyone associated with the school for this situation, save one person.

That person would be me.

[Note: I will try to write more on the political issues surrounding this development later, as some of the facts become known.]

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