The Group Health Cooperative’s longtime president, recently named head of the newly merged Kaiser/Group Health, says he worked hard on advanced degrees from an unaccredited school characterized as a degree mill on a national television show.
At issue are Phil Nudelman’s MBA and Ph.D. from California-based Pacific Western, an unaccredited college that gives credit for work and life experiences. The TV show “American Journal” focused last Wednesday on Nudelman - who has advised President Clinton on health issues - and two other influential people who earned degrees there.
Nudelman’s resume includes his three bachelor’s degrees from the University of Washington - in zoology, pharmacy and microbiology - earned between 1957 and 1966, and his degrees in health-systems management from Pacific Western, which has no classrooms or exams. Its introductory materials say: “All degree programs are primarily based on what the student has already learned.”
In an interview last week, Nudelman said he had never hidden or denied his enrollment at Pacific Western.
“I’m sorry if they are having problems now. Twenty years ago, in my knowledge base, there was nothing wrong,” he said.
“I did this in good faith and good conscience and worked hard.”
Nudelman said the TV show did an injustice to him and others with Pacific Western degrees “who benefited from its rigorous professional-studies program in the past.”
Lyle Mercer, a longtime Group Health consumer activist, said that when he was on the cooperative’s board and Nudelman began using “the Ph.D. after his name, I wondered how anybody could get an MBA or a Ph.D. when he was working time and a third.
“I figured it was one of those quickie deals, but nobody checked on it - you know how it goes.”
Dorothy Mann, Group Health chairman in 1990, said Nudelman was chosen unanimously over four other candidates to head the cooperative in 1991 for his leadership and experience - his “track record.”
He would have been selected even if he had not claimed advanced degrees, she said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we got the best person for the job,” Mann said.
Nudelman has been rewarded for his work with regular raises from the board. He earned $466,501 last year.
He began working toward the Pacific Western degrees in 1979, when his superior at Group Health indicated advanced degrees would be required to move up. When that boss moved on, Nudelman continued his studies “in case I wanted to go somewhere else,” he said.
He earned his master’s in 1980 and the doctorate in 1982 while working full time for Group Health. He said he couldn’t attend a traditional school and work full time to support his family, and even night school was ruled out by Group Health’s many night meetings.
“I worked my behind off” for the degrees, Nudelman said.
He said he completed his dissertation in six to eight months on automated pharmacy systems, a project he had been conducting at Group Health. He said he was required to rewrite his dissertation several times. He was given credit, without testing, for past work experience, Nudelman said.
A person with a master’s degree and credits from other schools can earn a Ph.D. at Pacific Western in six months to a year, said school president Philip Forte. He noted that all its students for the past 21 years have been required to sign a disclaimer acknowledging the school is not accredited.
At the UW, earning a Ph.D. in business is a full-time, three-year program that takes most people four to five years, university spokesman Bob Roseth said.
While Nudelman said he thought the school had been accredited in California, that was not the case. When he earned his degrees, it was licensed to operate and grant degrees, for which a much lower standard is set. Its curriculum is not compared with other schools nor is it required to meet any education standards.
Accreditation is “the mark of legitimacy within higher education,” said Tim Washburn, the UW’s executive director of admissions.
Some educators look askance at schools that credit work already done.
“You don’t know anything more after you get the credit than you came in with, because you haven’t done anything more,” said Don Haught, executive director of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits schools and colleges in the West.