School board removes ‘Dr.’ plaque after CBS 6 investigation

Posted at 8:32 PM, Apr 22, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) --  There's an update in an exclusive CBS 6 investigation after  questions were raised about whether an elected Richmond school board member has the doctoral degree she claims to have.

The school board chairman demanded answers by Monday night after Catie Beck's CBS 6 investigation earlier this month.

Just last week the title of “Dr.” appeared on school board name placards for member Shonda Harris-Muhammed.

"It's not one that you can bestow upon yourself, it's one that only an academic institution can give,” said board member Kim Gray.

Before this week’s school board meeting started, the board as a collective decided it best to remove that title and change them to read “Mrs. Shonda Harris-Muhammed”.

"When you put it out there it's public consumption, it's not personal. It is what it is," said board member Derek Jones.

Richmond School Board Chair Jeff Bourne explained Monday night that the removal by telling board members that the public trust in the entity needed to be restored after questions had surfaced about whether Harris-Muhammed had the degree behind the title.

"It is clear based on the information that we have that for whatever reason that degree was not conferred upon you," Bourne said to Harris-Muhammed.

Much like last week's meeting, at which time Harris-Muhammed was given a week to produce proof of her degree, this week again she defended her decision to use the title. She claimed she had finished her coursework, but could not receive the degree because of a private issue with Walden University that she refused to discuss.

"No question if Shonda Harris-Muhammed has completed her work or not, I've completed what I needed to complete anything else that needs to be done is between me and the university,” said Harris-Muhammed.

Last week Harris-Muhammed called this a personal matter and referenced bullying tactics and this week she gave much of the same reaction.

"I am never legally bound to share this information with anybody, I chose to share it because someone went snooping for it," said Harris-Muhammed.

Bourne explained to Harris-Muhammed that if an RPS employee were in her exact scenario the board would likely take a disciplinary action to which Harris-Muhammed took offense.

"Please, please do not make this in to a disciplinary matter because it's not. No law was broken. Was everybody else's credentials checked -- or was it just Shonda M Harris-Muhammed?" she asked.

Several board members say they take issue with Harris-Muhammed's unapologetic approach.

"For the past six months she's asked us to call her Dr. Harris-Muhammed and tonight unfortunately we didn't hear her own that or take responsibility for it," said board member Glen Sturtevant.

For those members, more questions remain.

"At what point did this person decide they should be called doctor?" said Gray.

School board chair Jeff Bourne had given Shonda Harris-Muhammed the deadline to prove she has earned her degree and the right to call herself doctor.

The meeting started with Bourne saying that Harris-Muhammed had provided some documentation to support that she completed some doctoral coursework.

However, Bourne said he did not believe that enough evidence was provided to support any claim of having earned a doctoral degree.

In fact, Bourne said there was evidence to suggest that she has not earned that degree -- and that it has not been conferred to her by Walden University.

As a result, prior to Monday's meetings the nameplates were swapped out. The nameplate reading "Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed" was switched out to "Mrs. Shonda Harris-Muhammed." Website references to the doctorate were also removed.

Harris-Muhammed defended her coursework and said she would not be discussing specifically what that issue was, over privacy concerns. She said she felt no obligation to explain what happened and it wasn't until someone went snooping through her education background that she chose to do so.

Bourne differed and said the public deserved an explanation.

"The question for me, and I think the rest of the board, was never whether you completed the course work," Bourne said. "The question that is central to all of this is whether or not the university conferred a doctoral degree on you. And it is clear, based on the information that we have, that for whatever reason that degree was not conferred upon you."

Bourne went on to say that he thinks the public has lost a certain level of trust in the board because of the scandal.

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