“Digital doctorate” embarrasses WCC sec gen Kobia

February 15, 2008

Samuel Kobia in Beijing, 21 Nov. 2006/Claro CortesThe Rev. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has had to drop his Ph.D in religious studies from his resumé because it came from a U.S. diploma mill that was never accredited and no longer exists. Ouch!

Kobia told a news conference in Geneva he had no idea that the Louisiana-based university had no right to award the degree he got in 2004 after three years of work via the Internet.

Hearing of the status of Fairfax University was a shock to me. I followed their programme in good faith,” said Kobia, a 60-year-old Methodist from Kenya. If it’s any consolation, Sweden’s Labour Minister Sven Otto Littorin had to purge his CV of a Fairfax MBA last year after a blogger broke a similar story.

It’s interesting to note who broke the Kobia story. The news first came in a report from Geneva on Tuesday by the Evangelischer Pressedienst (epd), the German Protestant news agency. It landed just before a meeting of the WCC central committee that is due to re-elect Kobia for another five-year term as head of the global Christian grouping of 349 churches (mostly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox) that represent more than 560 million believers.

WCC logoKobia is the only candidate, but he has been criticised by some European church leaders for his extensive travel and his management style. The issue has apparently not been discussed in public at the central committee but there are rumours in the corridors that some churches from the Global North were against him. But the feeling is that he’ll get the Swedish treatment — an embarrassment and a scare, but he’ll be able to keep his job.

Do you think Kobia or Littorin could have failed to notice their university was dodgy? Do you think resumé fraud — intentional or not — should lead to dismissal?


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your reporting has been very one sided. i sat as an observer in this meeting, but it was a shock to read how the press is covering the council meeting. the support and appreciation for Rev Kobia’s work was evident through the meeting. But the reporting has been based on German church’s agenda and seems like a smear campaign on Rev Kobia. It is sad to see how the press has played into the politics that run so deep at the council.

yes germans give a lot of money but this reporting has not indicated what consultation the germans have done with other church members.

Posted by whyzer99 | Report as abusive

You’re the second person saying there was support and appreciation for Rev Kobia at the meeting. This is not surprising at such a large meeting; there are often voices for and against the head of a large organisation when review time comes up. But what is surprising was that a man who went into a meeting like this as the unopposed favourite for the next term suddenly withdrew his candidacy. The German church went public with its objections but other delegates and officials would not comment. WCC Central Committee moderator Walter Altmann declined to talk about the issue at a news conference despite repeated questions from journalists. The only person who wanted to talk on the record was Kobia himself, whose news conference we reported. As you say, politics runs deep at the council. We simply reported on what happened and the criticism expressed to explain why Kobia pulled out of the race.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I was also at the meeting. I was truly shocked at how the Reuters man misrepresented the issue. The tremendous support for Rev Kobia’s leadership was evident. The Reuters man did not do his due diligence as a reporter.

Rev Kobia was appointed to the post before the Fairfax degree.
He was not appointed on the strength of the Fairfax degree but on the strength of his leadership, character,experience… etc
He is an MIT graduate, taught at Harvard during his sabbatical, he has several honorary doctorates… but the reporter didnt want to mention that.

Fairfax was accredited at the time he registered.
Fairfax did not inform intl students when the State took away their accreditation. They carried on as if they were still accredited.
The book he wrote for the course was published… he was clearly a victim of Fairfax.

But the timing and the way the reporter omitted certain facts… seems that there are some very malicious people out there

Posted by John-Lamman | Report as abusive

Responding to the comment above:
I believe “leadership, character, experience” should have been the very qualities that would have led Kobia to take the necessary due diligence to avoid such a sophmoric professional mis-step. I know of no doctoral candidate with Harvard-standing who would even consider putting his academic career in the hands of a university known only through its website; I know of no high networked ecumenical scholar who would have a doctoral thesis on justice on the African continent evaluated by -as in this case- just anybody. Kobia’s actions, in my mind, were irresponsible and highly irregular.

(It’s still unclear to me how thousands of church dollars could have been used to finance a paper that has not been produced, even in the heat of this controversy. This is also clearly a management issue.)

The post of General Secretary is in the very business of issuing statements that hold world leaders accountable to moral and ethical conduct. It is fair and right that Kobia’s actions be subject to the same scrutiny. As chief spokesperson and inter’l representative of a worldwide body of Christian churches, that bar of ethical conduct and transparency in leadership may stand higher.

As titles go, every “Rev. Dr.” knows that it’s “God before the degree”.

Posted by ecumenical youth | Report as abusive