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About A Week: No Degree For Me

Peter Hinchliffe is offered the chance to buy a degree - and memories start to flow.

How about this! A degree, for me.

A genuine college degree in just two weeks. No study required.

“These are real, genuine degrees,’’ says the unsolicited e-mail offer. “They include Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees. They are verifiable and student records and transcripts are also available.

“This little known secret has been kept quiet for years. The opportunity exists due to a legal loophole allowing some established colleges to award degrees at their discretion. With all the attention that this news has been generating, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this loophole closed very soon.’’

Wow!

A PhD do you think. Dr Peter Hinchliffe. Hm. Maybe not. If I went around calling myself “Doctor’’ somebody within the first ten minutes would ask me for a sure-fire cure for colitis. Or, even worse, demand that I insert five stitches into a cut.

A Masters then? A Master of Science. Peter Hinchliffe MSc. Nah. The first chap who saw me write those letters after my name would, inevitably, demand a definition of life, the universe and everything, plus Einstein’s theory of relativity – “and write it please on an A4 sheet.’’

Well a plain old BA couldn’t do any harm, could it? I could get away with that. You’d expect a journalist to have a Batchelor of Arts degree.

Indeed, my fellow journalists on an Indianapolis daily paper were astonished to hear that I left school at the age of 16. I was the only reporter on the paper not to be educated at a university.

This fact intrigued my city editor. “Just the job for you Limey,’’ he said one day, handing over an advert from our own paper.

“Degrees - $100,’’ said the advert.

There was a phone number. I rang it.

“Hello,’’ said I in my most cultured English tone. “I am telephoning about your advertisement. I think it is time I had a degree.’’

“What do you want to study?’’ demanded a man with a strong South-Western accent.

“Er…well, English.’’

“Do you have any books?’’ demanded the man.

“Well…what kind of books?’’

“Books. Any books?’’

“I have a copy of War and Peace,’’ said I tentatively.

“What’s that?’’

“It’s…well it’s a novel. A book.’’

“You can study that. Write a thesis on it. Send it to the address in the ad. With a cheque for $100. Then I’ll send you your degree.’’

“So…how long should the thesis be?’’

“Long as you like,’’ said the man, and put the phone down.

I wrote a story about a con man who was selling degrees for 100 bucks. It appeared on page one of that evening’s edition.

A week later, a colleague, on his way to work, saw a For Sale sign outside the tiny one-storey building which was the headquarters of the “university’’ to which I applied.

“Success,’’ said my city editor. “You’ve run him out of town, Limey. Go out there with a photographer. We’ll get a pic of the empty premises and run another story tonight.’’

We went to the “university’’, the photographer and I. The front door of the premises was open. We proceeded down a corridor to the back of the building. We knocked on what appeared to be an office door.

“Come in,’’ said a voice. I recognised it as belonging to my telephone “professor’’.

I went in. An old man in a shabby suit was sitting behind a desk.

“I’m Peter Hinchliffe of The Times….’’ I said.

The old man jerked open a desk drawer and reached down towards it. “You son of a bitch!’’ he said.

Which was no way to welcome a student into the fields of academe.

The photographer and I exited from the building. Hurriedly. Without making our excuses.

And now, years and years later, I am offered a second chance to acquire a degree.

There’s a phone number in this e-mail. An American phone number.

Does anyone out there know the area code for Indianapolis?


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