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Counselor defends degree from controversial school

The FBI says it's a sham. But mental health counselor Marvin Kassed says, "If you're looking for a bad guy, it's not me.''

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Mental health counselor Marvin W. Kassed, who screens would-be law officers for their psychological fitness, says he had no idea there was anything illicit about the university that gave him a Ph.D.

Kassed told the Times Wednesday that he didn't learn the FBI had described Southwestern University in Tucson, Ariz., as a diploma mill until the newspaper brought it to his attention this week.

"I was rather astonished," said Kassed, who performs psychological evaluations for the police academy at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Kassed's diploma from Southwestern bears the date June 15, 1982, as well as the signature of Anthony J. Geruntino, the school's former board chairman, who in 1985 was sentenced to five years in federal prison for fraud and later testified before a congressional subcommittee investigating diploma scams. The FBI named Southwestern as a source of bogus degrees as part of its massive "Dipscam" probe of the 1980s.

"The degree is worthless," said former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who took part in the investigation.

In later years, Southwestern University operated out of a building in Tucson, he said. But in 1982 it existed there only as a mail drop in Tucson.

"They had no physical facilities," he said. "There was no college other than on paper."

Kassed acknowledges he got his doctorate through the mail and didn't set foot on an actual campus. In awarding him the degree, Kassed said, Southwestern looked at his work experience in the field of psychology, coursework at the University of Rhode Island and a study he did on the effectiveness of military organization in Fort Benning, Ga.

"I did the work to earn the diploma," Kassed said. "Whether or not they were legitimate, that's another thing."

He said he got a B-plus for his graduate work there.

At Southwestern, Ezell said, grades were negotiable.

"If you don't like your GPA, you argue, you get another one," Ezell said. "If you don't like 3.6, you get 4.0."

When the FBI raided the school, Ezell said, they found hundreds of professionally bound papers submitted by the school's students that had never been glanced at, much less graded.

Kassed said he received many calls of support after a story in Wednesday's Times about his credentials.

"If you're looking for a bad guy, it's not me," Kassed said.

Along with the doctorate from Southwestern, Kassed's resume lists a master's in education from the University of Rhode Island. That school confirmed he holds that degree.

Laurie Guthrie, 34, of Hudson, one of his former patients, said Kassed was immeasurably helpful in her struggle to overcome depression.

"I cannot praise this man enough," she said. "I think we need more like him."

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