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PA Sues Online 'University' For Spamming 313

CousinLarry writes "Online 'university' Trinity Southern University (Google cache of disabled site homepage) has been sued by the state of Pennsylvania." Besides spamming, this self-described school has, as another reader points out, "awarded an MBA to a cat owned by an undercover Pennsylvania deputy attorney general." I bet my cat could get a PhD.
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PA Sues Online 'University' For Spamming

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  • by shoppa ( 464619 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @08:58AM (#11030931)
    My cat already has a PhD!
  • Ralph (Score:3, Funny)

    by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @08:59AM (#11030937)

    When I grow up, I'm going to Bovine University!

  • Smart Cat (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @08:59AM (#11030939)
    I for one welcome our new feline overlords
  • Headline (Score:3, Funny)

    by StevenHenderson ( 806391 ) <stevehenderson@gma i l .com> on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:01AM (#11030952)
    Did anyone else read this as "Penny Arcade Sues Online 'University' For Spamming?"
  • Real Victim (Score:5, Insightful)

    by teiresias ( 101481 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:04AM (#11030979)
    The real victim here is any online College or University that's trying to become a credible institution. With process stories like this few people will want to take the option of online Universitys and even fewer employers will take them seriously.
    • Re:Real Victim (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:12AM (#11031026)
      Actually, degree mills like this hurt all American universities. I was talking with the head economist of a UK based multinational a while ago, and he throws all American CVs in the bin unless the university is a well known and respected one, simply because he doesn't have time to fuck about checking their accreditation.
      • wow he must be lazy...doesn't take but two seconds to find out.
        • Re:Real Victim (Score:4, Interesting)

          by chialea ( 8009 ) <chialea.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @11:24AM (#11032079) Homepage
          How would you find out easily? Universities are accredited by different organizations. MIT isn't accredited at all, last I heard, under the theory that people already know they're just fine. The reason the organization that accredits UC Berkeley has any clout is that it accredits Berkeley. This doesn't sound that organized to me.

          Fake online universities put up all sorts of fake stuff on the web to try to give the impression of legitimacy. I'm not aware of a list of "real" universities to check credentials against, and this tactic implies that a simple google search might not be all that helpful. (Putting up a page saying "this university is fake" doesn't fix the problem; they have tons and tons of names.)

          • Re:Real Victim (Score:3, Informative)

            by magefile ( 776388 )
            Universities aren't accredited so much as their programs are. For example, if you want a bioengineering degree that actually means something, you want a school that is "ABET accredited". They do other engineering stuff, too (ABET="Accredition Board for Engineering and Tech." or sth. like that). And they are certified by CHEA (Council for Higher Ed. Accreditation). Given a college name 30 seconds of Googling will find out if they're accredited in a given field, and by whom.
          • Re:Real Victim (Score:3, Informative)

            by general_re ( 8883 )
            MIT isn't accredited at all, last I heard, under the theory that people already know they're just fine.

            MIT is very much accredited [mit.edu]. "Everybody knows they're just fine" is not nearly enough to continue in business, not least because neither the federal government nor any state will extend grants or loans to students attending institutions that are not accredited by a recognized governing body. No accreditation = no $$$$, period. Recognized accreditation commissions are organized regionally in the United

      • In the UK, the general perception is that a degree from a university in the USA is equivalent to a set of good A-levels (exams taken at age 18, usually in 3 subjects, sometimes in 5) in the UK. In a large part, this is due to the lack of specialisation in US universities. In the UK, you apply to a particular department in a University, and then do a degree in that subject, rather than the whole major subject with minor subjects thing that seems to go on in American universities.

        • Its quite clear that people in the UK don't understand the concept of majors and minors.

          A major is your field of study. If you attend a university you will work in the department associated with your major for most of the time you are there. A minor is entirely voluntary. You can choose to take additional courses in another field, related or unrelated and receive a minor. minors (or concentrations) have much simpler requirements and are meant to broaden your study should you choose to.

          for instance,
    • by Libertarian_Geek ( 691416 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:54AM (#11031293)
      All those cats that put forth the effort and hard work to earn their PHDs.
    • Re:Real Victim (Score:3, Insightful)

      by C10H14N2 ( 640033 )
      Considering how seriously employers take undergrad degrees while simultaneously disregarding their actual worth, in most cases, I really don't see much difference between an actual degree--regardless of where it's from--and one written in crayon on the back of a cocktail napkin. Maybe straight out of college with no experience, sure, but when people have a decade or more of experience, I don't care if you graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard. What you've done in the decade since going to Harvard is far mo
    • I've always been wary of mail, online and other remote education programs. Unjustly so? Possibly. Just that it seems too easy to cheat on both sides.
    • The real victim here is any online College or University that's trying to become a credible institution.

      Not really. I've never known anyone to take online classes, nor have I looked at them, but when seeing stuff like TV ads for "Phoenix University Online", I would not put too much credibility for someone that "went" there.

      College has little to do with learning or grades, its a rite of passage, and a general skills game for things like problem solving, meeting deadlines, communication, etc. Very few of
      • "College has little to do with learning" No, College has EVERYTHING to do with learning. There are lots of other activities which can go on at college; but for some, it's all about learning. I've taken a few classes over the internet, and have learned just as well in them as I did in my regular classes. Lectures are usualy given in MP3 format, with insturctional videos when needed. I have taken Linux admin classes, English comp, and even speech. The best part of classes over the net is that you can sh
  • by BostonPilot ( 671668 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:05AM (#11030981)
    They also could not spell:
    Perspective students submit a detailed self-evalution for the degree of their choice, BA, BS, MA, MBA, or PhD. A TSU registrar will evaluate your application within 5-7 days and contact you via email with the results of their evaluation.
  • In a world when you risk being sued by putting in your name even part of silly/generic/etc trademarked names, there is nothing that impedes to call itself "university" and even giving PhD to such things?

    Of course, just for sending spam they should be closed, burn in hell, pay millons to each spammed victim and so on, but i see a better irony in my previous concern.

  • by Joey Vegetables ( 686525 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:05AM (#11030987) Journal

    From the article:

    Besides spamming, this self-described school has, as another reader points out, "awarded an MBA to a cat owned by an undercover Pennsylvania deputy attorney general."

    Thereby reducing the average IQ of cats, while greatly increasing that of MBAs.

    • by tootlemonde ( 579170 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:25AM (#11031112)

      Thereby reducing the average IQ of cats, while greatly increasing that of MBAs.

      The poster is alluding to a quote by Mark Twain:

      If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.

      - Notebook, 1894

      More Twain quotes on cats here [twainquotes.com].

    • Based on a former New Zealand prime minister's comments? From the International Herald Tribune [iht.com]:

      "New Zealanders are mostly comfortable with their larger neighbor, Australia, although jokes fly in both directions. The late Prime Minister Robert Muldoon once was heckled that he had ruined the economy so badly that most New Zealanders were migrating to Australia. "They are merely raising the average IQ levels in both countries," he shot back."
    • is the Deputy Attorney General, for falsifying an application.

      Trinity is the victim of fraud. Not that they appear to work very hard to avoid it, but why is the DAG working so hard to entrap them?
      • See in a real university, this wouldn't be a problem. You actually have to go to classes, take tests, etc to get a degree. Thus a cat would never get a degree. I mean I have a cat who is smart, as far as cats go, but whining for food and purring on my lap are about the extent of his communication skills.

        The point is that they clearly issue degrees with no actualy check of skills.
  • by Nine Tenths of The W ( 829559 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:09AM (#11031008)
    I'll take Britain's godless socialised education every day over educational free market capitalism. Employers shouldn't have to waste time determining whether a university is real or not. This is just as disruptive as the fear of litigation that prevents people giving bad references
    • It is not really a problem. Thier are several well known accreditation boards which are accepted. The boards range in accrediting the whole school to ones that accredit just a degree.
      As for employees most don't worry about it. Thier is a set of books which they use, they look up the school and can check who it is a accedited by and dates. The human resource department does this, at the same time it is verifing that the person actually graduated.
    • Is it that hard for an employer to get an HR intern or lackey to compile a list of all "real" universities in the US? Wouldn't this be as simple as getting the latest U.S. News & World Report college guide and looking at their top 200 list? (Or at least their directory [usnews.com]).

      (Also referencing this post [slashdot.org]).

      I could understand if you were checking on high schools (does Arco, ID have a Butte County High School [idahosports.com], and are they really the Butte Pirates?? [holyducttape.com]), but colleges and universities?
    • Well, I for one think spiffing up the old resume with fake Internet accreditations is a great idea!

      -- Rev. Dr. C.S. Bruce, BSc(CS), MSc(SC), PhD[CS], MBA, PhD[Psyc], PhD[Theol]
  • Better mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zen Punk ( 785385 ) <cdavidbonner@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:09AM (#11031009) Journal

    Has Timothy(or the submitter) never heard of The Internet Archive [archive.org]?

    You can actually look at the pictures, too.

    • Yes, indeed, and for everyone with unregulated internet access, the Internet Archive is a great source. However, archive.org is considered a "proxy avoidance device" by many enterprise web content management (such as WebSense) applications, and that is blocked to us shmoes behind a corporate "Shield". Google cache, on the other hand, is not.

      I'm not saying I know the particulars of the situation, but if I submitted it, this would be my method too.


  • I don't understand (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Icarus1919 ( 802533 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:10AM (#11031019)
    I really don't understand the furor over this. It wouldn't be the first college degree mill out there, and it certainly won't be the last. The only one whom people who get this sort of degree are cheating is themselves. I mean, sure, at first it may seem like they are cheating employers that take this sort of thing at face value, but it'll be pretty obvious once they start fucking up their job royally because they don't know what they're doing.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      I am not condoning degree mills but what you say is certainly not always right.

      there is a guy that used to work here that did get his MBA from a degree mill... he paid $1500.00 for it and had it in 12 days.

      he used it to get into this place, HR is typically stupid and will only hire people with degrees, he had over 20 years of experience in his field but no degree, hell he was better than the MBA's here.

      over the 5 years I worked with him we became friends and he confided in me this fact.

      he left here over
      • I do not condone it, I believe that you need to be forced to waste 4 years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars just like I did so you can gain that piece of paper that really does not way [sic] anything about your abilities.

        I disagree that getting a degree does not "way" ("say"?) anything about a person's abilities. It says they are capable of learning. It says they can get the work done when needed. It says they can perform under pressure. It says they are dedicated, committed, and organize
        • you never met any of my roommates from college.

          One in particular, spent the first 2 years completely drunk. Daddy was rich, and he bought most of his grades through cheating. I remember him turning in an essay in the same class I was in and I knew for a fact he did not work on it.

          many people tried ratting on him, it never went far.

          Sad part is that he is a Regional VP for a large communications company now.

          I have seen more people slide their way through college in a way that would normally get them fir
    • by Feanturi ( 99866 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:43AM (#11031218)
      I've been getting these diploma spam emails for almost as long as there has been spam, and it always struck me as fraud and made me wonder why they weren't being arrested. You're not just cheating yourself, you get cheated as well, and for money. That's fraud, as it devalues the real thing, and fleeces the ignorant. It's about time someone started getting in trouble for it, only took like 11 years or so.
    • The only one whom people who get this sort of degree are cheating is themselves.

      As well as legitimate degree-holders from any school whose name isn't deeply ingrained in the public consciouness as legitimate. Sure, everyone knows a degree from "the University of Pennsylvania" is legit. But what about "Pennsylvania Polytechnical College"? Or "Pennsylvania Institute of Technology"? Hint: I made up one of the latter two.

      it'll be pretty obvious once they start fucking up their job royally because they d
  • uce@ftc.gov (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:12AM (#11031028)
    Like most people, I get way too much spam to forward every single piece to the FTC. But I *do* make it a point, whenever a piece of spam for fraudulent university degrees makes it past my filters, to send those e-mails along.

    I wouldn't mind so much if:

    * Getting a college degree at any level weren't so much work
    * Getting a college degree at any level didn't cost so much
    * There weren't so many underprivileged highly intelligent people who never get college degrees because they can't afford it or are under the impression that they can't get financial aid

    • Re:uce@ftc.gov (Score:2, Insightful)

      by xtracto ( 837672 )
      Well that's the problem of living in a country where the education is kind of private, in other countries (like Mexico) high education does not cost that much so everyone can afford it.
  • from the can-they-get-to-university-of-phoenix-soon department?

    I'm a Brit, and I may have missed something, but isn't the UoP similar to our Open University? In which case, isn't this statement a bit harsh?

  • by Nine Tenths of The W ( 829559 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:15AM (#11031052)
    Let's see, cats:
    Expect everyone else to do the hard work
    Fuck things up and cause damage through boredom
    Demand the best of everything without being willing to work for it
    Boss people around
    Fly into fits of rage
    Have short attention spans
    Spend 21 hours a day resting

    Is there any reason a cat shouldn't have an MBA?
  • Dr. Katz (Score:2, Funny)

    by cj_goth ( 525978 )
    I bet my cat could get a PhD

    Well, as per the article, if your cat has a spare $499 it's his. Unless the PA DA gets to the "online university" first. Mind you, $499 buys a lot of tuna steak ...

    You can almost hear Alton Poe, the Vice Chancellor, kicking himself for awarding that degree ... "I had a really bad feline about that applicant..."
    • Mind you, $499 buys a lot of tuna steak ...

      But, like any degree, it's an investment that brings you greater future earnings. So if you forego a little tuna steak now, you'll be able to afford a lot later.

  • Here's the google cache for the order form:

    Get your degree now! []

  • My first thought when I read the headline was "Wow...Tycho and Gabe are on the OTHER side of the lawsuit for once."
  • by The Mutant ( 167716 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:27AM (#11031122) Homepage
    There is an active on-line community at DegreeInfo.com [degreeinfo.com] who research and discuss the merits of each institution.

    Here in the UK The Open University [open.ac.uk] has been providing fully accredited distance learning since the early 70's.

    I went to a brick and mortar Uni myself, but have worked with several graduates of such institutions, both in the banking and academic worlds (I'm a banker and part time visiting lecturer at a local Uni), and they were fine; like most things, you get out of it what you put into it.
    • I work for a Distance Learning program which has several accredited online degrees [jccmi.edu]. While most of the students who take online courses usually couple them with brick and mortar classes, there are some degrees, such as Diagnostic Medical Sonography, which you can take entirely online.
    • I've read about The Open University; in fact, in the early 70s, its success served as the inspiration for the Tele-Universite [uquebec.ca] (text in french), which started to offer distance-learning classes in 1974. Since it was a part of the "Universite du Quebec", it was fully accredited from the start. Now, they offer well over 300 different classes in 65 different programs, most of which geared towards working adults studying part-time.

      Without it, I wouldn't have been able to go back to school and earn a degree ; I'
  • by Anonymous Meoward ( 665631 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:33AM (#11031158)

    I really am pursuing an MBA!
    -- Anonymous Meoward

  • New name (Score:3, Funny)

    by Israfels ( 730298 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @09:46AM (#11031239)
    That's DR. Socks to you buddy!

    SCO, RIAA, and the MPAA may be in trouble.
    We found the source of the lawyers!
  • Amazingly, the Village Council hired a member's son-in-law as village administrator. His credentials (completely unchecked, of course) included just such a fine degree. He would step into the middle of a complete downtown rennovation project.

    Three years later, he has returned to Arkansas (thankfully!), but has taken with him $45,000 in severance pay. His computer remains at the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the rumor being it may contain child porn.

    And the Village has a new $100k street sweeper
  • ...
    Homeland security honcha has phony PhD
    A senior technical official in the Homeland Security Department has a phony Ph.D. from a diploma mill. I'm thinking that I'd like to get one of these and join my parents (Dr. and Dr. Doctorow) as Dr. Doctorow, Jr.

    (here) [boingboing.net]

    No, no further remark.

  • Heh. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Anyone with a brain should have read "fraud" from every bit of this. Their website has a web page [archive.org] (thanks to Zen Punk for the archive.org link) about their "accreditation". It's full of buzzwords, and says that they've been accredited by the "National Association of Prior Learning Assessment Colleges". Oddly enough, a Google search [google.com] for this only produces the page in question, a link to a message board saying that this "university" has been spammed heavily - and a website for the supposed association, whi
  • by mwood ( 25379 )
    I don't suppose those are the miscreants who have been flooding our network with winpopups essentially offering degrees for sale? "They never will be missed...."
  • by Frantactical Fruke ( 226841 ) <renekita@NospaM.dlc.fi> on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @10:32AM (#11031602) Homepage
    ...an MBA shouldn't be too hard for the average cat, either.

    And I wish this to be moderated as '-1: D'uh!'
    Thank you.
  • Greater regulation of universities and other institutions offering courses.

    Particularly in various fields where having qualifications is important.

    Just have some simple rules about what an institution must do in order to be able to legally issue degrees and stuff.

    Although most of the phony degree scams I have seen tend to be for crappy degrees anyway.
  • Gillian Mckeith (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lxt ( 724570 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @10:56AM (#11031807) Journal
    I believe that Guardian Newspaper ran a small campaign a few months back in their science section about "Dr" Gillian McKeith, the author of "You Are What you Eat", a number 1 book and popular TV programme over here in the UK. It turned out she'd actually got her doctorate from an online institution (it may even have been Trinity Southern, I forget the name) - either way, it was "accredited" by the same bogus board as Trinity Southern (and if you've read her book, it's pretty obvious she has no clue what she's talking about - chlorophyll is apparantly "high in oxygen", and "the 'blood' of the plant will really oxygenate your blood." when you eat it...depite the fact there's no light in your gut...).

    The Guardian's point was that millions of people were buying this book under the impression she was an accredited doctor, when in fact she was nothing of the sort. However good her advice may have been, she was still misleading the public over her credentials... see http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/badscience/story/0, 12980,1285600,00.html [guardian.co.uk]

    In a similar theme, the journalist in question got his cat a "nutrationalist specialist" certificate...
  • Among the alleged victims are Penn State University and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as numerous Internet service providers, businesses and technology companies. The attorney general's office said abuse of the victims' computer systems was costly and generated undeserved ill will by the recipients.

    Ummm no.. sorry but Penn State and the others with open mailservers are not the vics in this case. If you are stupid enough to run an open relay mail server you deserve what you get... (which I woul
  • by csoto ( 220540 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2004 @11:24AM (#11032081)
    "My cat is an honors student at Trinity Southern University."
  • One would think that an "online university" would have heard about dictionary.reference.com [reference.com]!
  • I bet my cat could get a PhD.

    Only if you forget to scoop the litter box (hint: PHD = 'Piled Higher and Deeper')
  • Sounds like one a dem "faith colleges". Isn't prayer just spamming god? Or is that an existing business relationship? Somehow, any opt-out by god seems likely to increase the spamprayer, not end it.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"