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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PMs' doctorates a "PR" move

PMs' doctorates a "PR" move

C AMBODIA's co-prime ministers and three other officials have proudly received

honorary doctorate degrees from an American "university" which is not accredited

in the United States.

The Southern California University for

Professional Studies staged two awards ceremonies on March 2 and 3 as a public

relations scheme to drum up business, school officials told the Post.

"We are hoping to set up a relationship with the government where they

would like to invite us to offer our program and that is why we recognized these

government officials," said Donald Hecht, president of the school.

Hecht

admitted his school, headquartered in Santa Ana, is not an accredited university

in the US.

Using the slogan "All the world is our campus," the school

offers correspondence courses in business administration, psychology, technical

management and law. Its bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees are not

recognized by many traditional universities or the Distance Learning Association

of America, admitted Hecht.

He said his school, founded in 1978, is

recognized by the Council for Private Post Secondary and Vocational Education of

the State of California.

The school stepped up its international search

for students six months ago, said Patrick Doan, who runs its international

department.

Doan said he had first traveled to Vietnam to promote the

school but the government there was not receptive, so he and Hecht moved on to

Cambodia, where officials were more than happy to receive them.

"'Thank

you' seems like such a short, simple word to express our sincere appreciation

for such an honor that you have chosen to bestow on HE Samdech Hun Sen and

myself, but I know of no better word to describe our most profound satisfaction

and appreciation for this distinction," said First Prime Minister Norodom

Ranariddh at a lavish ceremony March 2 at Chamkarmon Palace.

Speaking on

behalf of himself and the Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh

described the doctorate degrees as "special" and said they "will serve to remind

us at all times, not only to be proud of it, but to use logical and ethical

thinking in our conduct as leaders."

"We believe that holding this degree

is not only an honor to HE Samdech Hun Sen and myself, but also an honor to the

courage and sacrifice of the Cambodian people," Ranariddh said.

The next

day, Doan described the decision to grant the honorary degrees as "something

like a promotion."

"But these people deserve to get an honorary degree

because they have rich experience," Doan said after a ceremony at the Cambodian

Development Council headquarters to grant degrees to MP Ouk Rabun, chair of the

finance and banking commission; Minister of Planning Chean Chan To and Kun Thy

Da, a professor of economics and an official at the Ministry of Economy and

Finance.

The campaign caused a flurry of interest among senior civil

servants and even one cabinet minister reportedly enrolling.

By the time

Hecht left town on March 5, he had 15 application forms in his briefcase - along

with cheques for the $100 registration fee. One applicant paid the full amount -

$3,500 - for a Masters degree.

One Khmer civil servant told the Post that

the fact Prince Ranariddh had accepted the degree prompted him and many of his

colleagues to consider enrolling.

"After all, it's an American

university - much better than a Vietnamese university."

A US Embassy

official said that the doctorate degrees could not be compared with those issued

by other US universities.

He said: "We were surprised after we received

the announcement about the graduation."

However, Hecht insisted that the

quality of his school's courses is equal or better than other American

universities, because his students get individual attention of professors

through computer, fax and telephone.

"The only thing that's different is

our mode of delivery."

Asked about entry requirements, Hecht said: "I

would prefer they speak some English, but I'm not going to downgrade them

because they have wrong punctuation or syntax... I want ideas. They will be

graded on content, not necessarily on their English."

Doan - whose three

sons attend California State University rather than his own - said he plans to

recruit qualified Khmer instructors with overseas degrees, who could tutor

potential students for the American school.

"We will pay them cheaper

than American professors, but they understand the country and the people

here."

The ceremonies were carried off with huge fanfare and celebration.

Caps and gowns were flown in from the US. The recipients were given flowers,

champange and lined up with school officials for photos. Afterwards they were

treated to a huge banquet and entertained by a live band, which the school did

not pay for.

Representing the school on the podium stood Hecht and three

other Americans: Hecht's son Mark and two friends from the US who do not work as

faculty at the school.

"At a ceremony for an American university, we

wanted to have white faces there," said Doan, an American citizen of Vietnamese

origin.

At the end of the ceremony on March 2, the Post overheard chat

between co-Defense Minister Tea Chamrath and US Ambassador Charles Twining.

Chamrath asked Twining to help give more doctorate degrees to Cambodian army

officials, and Twining suggested that they should help him too - with human

rights.

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