by Gary Novak
"Dr." James White has recently provided a long, if not exactly detailed, response to some of the issues I raised about his recently completed Th.D. When I read his account of his educational journey, I was interested and began investigating exactly what "Dr." White did to achieve his Th.D. What I discovered was not encouraging. I expressed my concerns on Worst of the Anti-Mormon Web. That led to a rather extensive correspondence with "Dr." Whitenow published on the Worstin which "Dr." White rather badly misunderstood exactly what I was claiming, leveled charges against my "honesty," "integrity" and "fairness," and sidestepped the only questions with which I am interested. That led to "Dr." White's "Of Gary Novak and the Columbia River" which contains among other things his apology for his doctorate.
Now I am not interested in a whole host of issues with which "Dr." White seems to believe are critical to any discussion of his Th.D. I am not interested in his books, articles, tapes and virtually all of the materials that he sells on his website and on the website of his church. The content and competence of those materials is not the issue. I am simply shelving that question for the time being. Neither am I calling into question "Dr." White's scholarship. As he correctly notes, scholarship and degrees are two separate things. Again, I am shelving that question for the time being. The one question with which I am interested is the validity of "Dr." White's Th.D. Did "Dr." White do the things that normal doctoral students do to achieve his degree?
"Dr." White loves strident language. Littered throughout his apologia one finds words like "strident," "nasty," "false religions," "hysterical ranting," "raving," "sarcastic," "disrespectful," "attack" and "hit piece" to characterize my investigation of his doctorate. Clearly "Dr." White has a point to make and is willing to pull all of the rhetorical stops to make it. In contrast he characterizes his own work as "fair and accurate" or more simply "fair."2 He complains about a bit of fun that I call "Novak's Rule" while at the same time insisting that he is innocent of anything of the kind.3 You can decide for yourself whether "Dr." White's sense of humor extends to irony.
For the sake of clarity and brevity4 I will divide this essay into two major sections. I will first address the items that are relevant to the issues I raised about "Dr." White's Th.D. I will then deal with peripheral issues and non-issues raised by "Dr." White. I hope to thereby accommodate my reader in such a way that he or she can bail out of the document at the first twinge of boredom.
Claim 1: "Mr. Novak did not bother to actually find out what the requirements for my doctorate were."
Actually I did, although not in the way that "Dr." White would seemingly require. I read "Dr." White's webpage on his degree; I read the entire Columbia Evangelical Seminary (CES) website; I ordered the CES catalog and read that in its entirety; I arranged for a visit to the seminary; I held "Dr." White's masters contract in my hand and read that as well. What I failed to doand my great sin in "Dr." White's eyeswas to contact him and then accept at face value his estimation of the value of his degree. "Dr." White believes that the items I cited from the CES catalogwhich include graduate courses, contrary to "Dr." White's assertion5were somehow intended to indicate the scope of his entire program. Such was far from my intention. The materials I cited were meant merely to indicate items in the curriculum that Latter-day Saints would likely find offensive. Would anyone believe that anything of use could be learned about Latter-day Saints from "Dr." Walter Martin's dreadful books? Yet they are the only books listed in the CES catalog in the courses intended to teach students something useful about the faith and community of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Let me assure "Dr." White and anyone with ears to hear that "Dr." Walter Martin's awful books on Mormonismor what he and CES denigrates as a "cult"are certainly the last place to discover anything useful or true about our faith. As should have been obvious to even "Dr." White, the items I quoted from the CES catalog were not meant to indicate "the reality of the program." My point was simply to indicate something of the quality of the courses offered at CES.
Claim 2: "My own program . . . has amounted to more than four times the number of credit hours Mr. Novak indicated."
So what? I have never complained about the number of credit hours that "Dr." White put into his degree. This is a non-issue. Indeed "Dr." White had already made much of the number of hours he put into his degree. This is simply besides the point.
Claim 3: Quoting me, "'CES has had about 155 total students pass through the institution.' I ['Dr.' White] have not confirmed that number, but it sounds about right."
I am gratified that I was able to report something correctly. I am all the more gratified because Rick Walston provided the number. Hopefully "Dr." White and I agree that CES is a very small school and in eight years has been able to attract only a handful of students.
Claim 4: Quoting me, "'It currently services about 65 active students.' Same as above."
Once again I am gratified, especially since this remarkable number is what Rick Walston reported to me.
Claim 5: Quoting me, "'Everyone on the CES board also teaches for CES.' Dr. Walston has indicated that this is not true."
"Dr." White caught me. No doubt he sees this as more typical Mormon lies and deception. It might be an honest mistake. But how? The following chart shows the entire CES board and those who teach at the seminary as of the printing of catalog #9 (no date).
|Michael A. Buchanan||No|
|Stuart D. Young||Yes|
So out of eight board members, five also teach at CES. It is highly unusual for anyone teaching at an institution to also serve on the board. Someone might consider that a conflict of interest. Indeed, it is highly unusual for the president of an educational institution to also serve on the board and then for the same reason. Usually, the president reports to the board.
The following sites are the board and trustee pages of several colleges and universities and are chosen not quite at random. In no instance does a board member teach, nor is the president a board member.
Please notice that I have chosen two major educational systems in "Dr." White's home state of Arizona and the trustee page of loathed Brigham Young University.
Claim 6: Again quoting me, "'There is no library, no student services and no bookstore. CES does not have any of the services normally associated with a college or university.' If by 'no services normally associated with a college or university' you mean a cafeteria, dorms or the like, of course not. Given the goal of the institution, why would such things exist? Why have a centralized library when the student will never be there?"
"Dr." White attempts to trivialize my point. He is of course correct that dorms and cafeterias would be pointless. I was quite explicit in what I meant in what I meant by servicesa library, a collection of services normally associated by the label student services and a bookstore. "Dr." White suggests that I am "entrenched in the 'old line' of thought." Really? Libraries and student services are even more important in a distance education environment. "Dr." White even suggests that the Internet obviates the need for such services. But this is far from the truth. Many "traditional" libraries offer access to leased online databases and other resources that are not available to just anyone surfing the Internet. Notice the wide variety of help available to students at the following institutions:
Please notice that these are all community colleges and that they are all involved in distance education. For what is it worth, all are accredited. The articles and databases available online are in many important instances available in no other way. That is, they require authentication and enrollment at the appropriate institution. Does CES offer its students resources even close to this?
I note with some irony that one can access the dissertation abstract from at least one of these sites. Dan Peterson's dissertationand "Dr." White simply cannot stand Dr. Petersonwas easily available when I searched for it. "Dr." White's dissertation was not listed in the database. Will it ever be listed? If not, why not? Is it available through interlibrary loan? If not, why not? No doubt "Dr." White will want to claim that his dissertation is published and hence no one will need to access the seminary version. This is true in his case. My point is simply that dissertations from CES are not available for normal scholarly scrutiny unless one is willing to travel to the seminary and use them on-site. So much for "Dr." White's distance education model.
"Dr." White complains that "Mr. Novak fails to note . . . that there is (whether he knows it or not) a growing trend toward distance education and non-centralized education." The implication (since "Dr." White loves implications) is that I do not know about this "growing trend." After all, I am "entrenched" in the "old line" of thought. "Dr." White's "growing trend toward distance education" also appears to be a justification for CES not being accredited.
"Dr." White is here guilty of some of the many sins of which he accuses me. He is wrong that I do not know about distance education and he is wrong that distance education is incompatible with accreditation. He could have had the "temerity" to ask so that he would have all the "facts" and the "whole story." For over thirteen years I have been employed by institutions deeply involved with distance education. First at Rio Salado College in Phoenix / Tempe, Arizona (yes, "Dr." White's home stomping ground) and now at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. For eleven years I worked at Rio, first as Supervisor of Information Processing and later as webmaster. Not too long ago Rio even billed itself as "the college without walls." Each year in Information Processing we produced hundreds of thousands of pages of materials for distance education (before they hit the Xerox machine or printing press). Later as webmaster I was responsible for webbing more than 80 courses. At Mt. Hoodwhere I am webmasterwe are also webbing courses and I am a member of the distance learning committee. In all I have had a hand in webbing more that 100 courses. So of course I know nothing about distance education. For what it is worth, both Rio Salado College and Mt. Hood Community College are fully accredited. Distance education does not prevent an institution from being accredited. "Dr." White should know that.
"Dr." White should also know that there are no "governmentally accredited" institutions. Accreditation of all colleges and universities is done by private institutions.6
Now it is true that education through the Internet is a growth industry. "Dr." White is exactly correct about that. But is Columbia Evangelical Seminary part of the movement? It is clear from "Dr." White's essays that he used email to communicate with Rick Walston. However CES does not appear to be offering courses over the Internet. There is no evidence on their website and no evidence at the school that they are offering webbed courses, there is no evidence that they are using conferencing software or even some older technology like Ed-Net. There is nothing in the CES catalog to indicate that they require or encourage Internet access. At best, Columbia Evangelical Seminary is a correspondence school that has changed from U.S. mail to email.
Claim 7: Again quoting me, "'James White's Masters Thesis was signed by Rick Walston . . . . There does not appear to have been a committee review.' It was also signed," says "Dr." White, "by Phil Fernandes (why Mr. Novak would miss this detail I do not know)."
Notice that I did not say that "Dr." White's thesis was signed only by Rick Walston. The real issue, which "Dr." White again sidesteps, is whether there was a committee review. There is nothing in "Dr." White's essay to indicate that his thesis or dissertation was defended.
"Dr." White all but admits that his work was not reviewed. As a substitute, he says his published works will "be subjected to unfriendly and tremendously adversarial review." By whom? Certainly no one on the non-existent committee. To say that his dissertation will be reviewed by hostile critics is to say exactly nothing important. Which one of "Dr." White's real or imagined critics will have the power to deny him his degree? Real dissertation defense committees have the power to deny degrees.
Claim 8: "Mr. Novak says that I have not shown scholarship by writing a dissertation on the Trinity."
This is exactly wrong. I have never made any claims about "Dr." White's scholarship. His inability to separate the issue of his degree from the issue of his scholarship is truly remarkable.
There are still many, many questions which "Dr." White has not answered about his Th.D.
The implications of a negative answer to this question are important. It is impossible to imagine a regular (dare I say "accredited?") university granting a degree when all of the work is completed with one individual. Diversity of teaching styles and variety of opinions and point of view are essential to liberal education. In addition, in a regular (dare I say "real?") university no single professor can possibly be expert in all of the curricula. If "Dr." White did all of his work with Rick Walston, the implications for his education and degree are staggering.
"Dr." White has yet to answer this question. The dissertation committee would have had the opportunity to deny the degree, send it back for further work or to change the direction of the research. In addition, the committee would have provided the kind of hostile criticism that "Dr." White craves while he was still working on his degree, not after the degree was granted. Indeed, this is part of the training that goes on in educational institutions. A skeptical person might doubt the existence of a committee.
Again, "Dr." White did not answer this question. The comprehensive examination is intended to provide breadth and depth in the field of study. This is a feature of virtually every doctoral program.
Examinations are, of course, central to the educational process. And it is perfectly normal to administer and proctor them over the Internet. CES does not appear to have any mechanisms on their website to do this. Did "Dr." White actually take examinations during the course of his doctoral work?
Interaction with other students with similar interests during the postgraduate process is an essential part of the university experience. Even courses on the Internet can accomplish the same sort of thing with list processors, conferencing software, and real-time chats. Again, a negative answer to this question would be telling.
When I first asked these questions of "Dr." White, he indicated that this question, in particular, made no sense in a distance environment. However, classes have always included a lecture portion and even distance classes can include such a thing. The Internet is simply a wonderful delivery system in this regard. Web pages can easily incorporate images and video and sound clips. Streaming technology guarantees that even reasonably long clips can be delivered in real time. Was "Dr." White trying to tell me that there were no lectures or lecture equivalents at CES? Once again, the implications of a negative answer to this question would be telling.
"Dr." White complains, "if we were to post anything like that [Novak's Rule] on our website, it would be noted as "unChristian bashing of Mormons . . . ." The truth of the matter is that "Dr." White publishes exactly that sort of rhetoric. There we see links like, "BYU Professors Prove That "Metcalfe is Butthead" Was No Fluke Nastigrams 'R Us" or "In A Study in F.A.R.M.S. Behavior, James White responds to L. Ara Norwood's review of Letters to a Mormon Elder."7 I urge you to read "Dr." White's response to Ara with an eye to the rhetoric he employs. This is, of course, simply besides the pointthat is, non-sequitur.
"Notice that the message he [Novak] sent is CC'd to 'skinny-l,' an intra-BYU list made up of LDS apologists, academics, etc." "Dr." White knows better. He knows that SKINNY is not an "intra-BYU list." I own SKINNY. It is run from my ISP and is paid for off of my nickel. It is not associated with BYU other than a few members happen to be employed by BYU. As I write, SKINNY list members live as far away as New Zealand and Israel, but also in Georgia, Colorado, Missouri, Oregon as well as Utah. What is "Dr." White's point? He doesn't have one, except, perhaps, that he does not care for SKINNY.
"Let's [sic.] suffice it to say that Mr. Novak confirmed that he has not read a single book I've written." So what? What do "Dr." White's publications have to do with his degree?
"Ironically, Mr. Novak in his sarcastic and disrespectful response, went so far as to start calling himself 'Cultist Gary Novak' . . . . Mr. Novak uses the term of himself in a sarcastic fashion, though I did not use such terminology in writing to him!" Setting aside the inaccurate quotation,8 the operative words are "I did not use such terminology in writing to him." Apparently one can only use terms when responding to "Dr." White that he has used first. However that may be, the seminary from which "Dr." White graduated uses the term freely to describe the faith of Latter-day Saints and the remarkable tax documents of "Dr." White's Alpha and Omega Ministries describe it as "Christian outreach to members of cults and false religions." Really, for "Dr." White to attempt to score a point by insisting that he did not use the term when writing to me is just plain ridiculous. Once again we are confronted with the non-sequitur.
"Both he [Louis Midgley] and Novak decided that it was totally disingenuous of me to assume that someone would bother to contact me before writing a hit piece about my doctoral work on the web. And the reason they offered? They point to a response I wrote to L. Ara Norwood’s less-than-useful review of Letters to a Mormon Elder, (click here for this article) and say, 'Hey, you didn’t contact Ara before posting that!' I found the argument so utterly without merit it was hard to know how to reply. . . . Norwood (representing FARMS)9 wrote a review of my book. He contacted our ministry, not in an honest fashion, but as a representative of 'Delta Lithograph,' inquiring about whether his company could publish the book! Of course, he asked a number of questions about the book in the process. Later he sent us a letter, this time saying that he is an LDS elder, but not mentioning that he was also, concurrently, working on a 'review' article on the book for FARMS. Mr. Norwood’s review, in comparison with material that has become stock-in-trade for FARMS since then, was fairly mild, though it did contain more than enough unnecessary ad-hominem argumentation. The article to which they now refer was my response to a written article by Norwood against my book. How anyone can suggest a logical parallel is beyond me. Mr. Novak’s hit-piece is not a response to my having written about him."
So I have to contact "Dr." White before publishing something that is in response to something that he has written, but he does not have to contact Ara before responding to something that Ara has written? I have to admit that I do not follow this reasoning. I also find myself wondering which Latter-day Saint "Dr." White contacted before publishing Is the Mormon my Brother?, Letters to a Mormon Elder or What's With the Dudes at the Door? Perhaps it is because he feels that I have written a personal attack. I have not. I have responded to something he wrote on his website. Another non-sequitur.
"My M.A. at Fuller Seminary (an institution he forgot to mention in his discussion of my academic credentials) included over 100 quarter-hours of work." Again, so what? I did not mention Fuller becauserather obviously and trivially I must addFuller is not CES. By the same token, I did not mention "Dr." White's high school, junior high, grade school or nursery school.
"I would gladly put the work up against Mr. Novak’s thesis, titled 'Eros and Thumos in Plato's Laws,' both for size, content, and most importantly (in my mind, anyway, since we are talking about a degree in theology), relevance to the Church." Again this is entirely besides the point. No one is claiming that my thesis is more relevant to the church than is "Dr." White's dissertation.
After complaining about terrible ad-hominem attacksthey are, after all, "the stock-in-trade of defenders of Mormonism""Dr." White complains, "if my work is so flawed, so bad, why not deal with it rather than with me." I have not anywhere claimed that "Dr." White's work is badly flawed. It may or may not be. That is not the issue I am addressing. The only issue with which I have been concerned is the validity of "Dr." White's Th.D.
I urge readers to take a look at the two items published by FARMS that concern "Dr." White and see if the workrather than the manis dealt with:
"What Mr. Novak does not want to address, of course, are other classes on apologetics." That is exactly right. Who cares? The other classes on apologetics may be the most rigorous and thought-provoking classes in the entire nation. That does exactly nothing to change the dreadful nature of the classes on Mormonismwhere the CES catalog uses the word "cult" and mentions by name only "Dr." Walter Martin. Now if "Dr." White does not care for the courses that caught my eye, perhaps he would be good enough to tell which courses he did take. Although I have asked him to do so repeatedly, he has steadfastly refused to tell. A suspicious person might think he had something to hide.
"Mr. Novak says that I have not shown scholarship by writing a dissertation on the Trinity." "Dr." White should know better. I have not made this claim. I suppose I should now be calling into question "Dr." White's honesty and integrity.
In one of the early letters to me, "Dr." White indicated that to "those who judge merely by institution (rather than accomplishment) are operating on an illogical standard." At the risk of getting out on a limb, I am taking this to be something of a general rule. And remember that "Dr." White abhors the ad-hominem. Apparently oblivious to irony he writes, "Mr. Novak's bias is beyond question, given his association with FARMS. . . ." If I did not know that "Dr." White simply cannot stand judging individuals by institution and that he hates the ad-hominem as much as flat tires, I might be tempted to think that this is an example of both judging an individual by institution and an ad-hominem. Obviously, I must fight that temptation.
I might even be tempted to believe that "Dr." White's charges of dishonesty and unfairness might be related to the ad-hominem. Again, I am resisting temptation. Should I mention the terms "nasty," "strident," "hysterical ranting" and "raving?" Probably not.
"Mr. Novak didn't read the book, so he'd hardly be in a position to judge." True. And nothing in the book (The King James Only Controversy) is in question. Non-sequitur.
I realize that "Dr." White feels picked on and that his feelings are hurt. And I realize that he is probably in love with his newly acquired honor of men; at least judging from the number of times he uses the word "Dr." on his website. He is, as we say, one trained for the ministry and his published writingson the trinity at leastare nothing if not the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. "Dr." White's Th.D. from Columbia Evangelical Seminary is not, however you care to think of it, a genuine doctorate. I grant that "Dr." White actually did a lot of work, unlike "Dr." Walter Martin or "Dr." Dee Jay Nelson. But that still does not change the reality of the situation. Now if "Dr." White were to drop his pretentious title and simply indicate that he is happy with the education, I would not have a problem.
Finally, I note that even Columbia Evangelical Seminary recognizes the value of graduates from accredited schools. The last page of the catalog contains this interesting language, "However, presently, i.e., at this time, we are seeking those who have strong educational backgrounds with master's and Doctoral degrees from accredited colleges, universities and seminaries in all Christian-related fields."10 Accreditation, it would seem, does count for something. I also urge anyone with the interest to read the section in the Columbia Evangelical Seminary Catalog on "Acceptance of Columbia Seminary Degrees." None of the institutions from which they quote provide anything better than a case-by-case acceptance of credits. None of the quotes struck me as being especially optimistic. Accreditation and articulation agreements go a long way toward enhancing the reputation of a school.
1Why this title? Because the Salt River, which occasionally flows through the metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona area, has about as much to do with James White as the Columbia River has to do with "Dr." White's "Of Gary Novak and the Columbia River."
2See Hugh Nibley, "How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book (A Handbook for Beginners)" in Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 11 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991): 474-580. Most of the rules apply rather nicely to "Dr." White. In this context I am thinking particularly of rules 1, 4, 5, 16, 17, 21, 22 and 28.
3Consider "Dr." White's delightful title, "Nastygrams 'R Us" and "A Study in FARMS Behavior."
4When printed without the formatting, "Dr." White's reply runs to eighteen pages.
5Should I now be complaining about "Dr." White's fairness and accuracy? Probably not. To do so would most likely be unfair and, in some odd way I am sure, inaccurate.
6It is indeed ironic that Rick Walstonfounder and president of Columbia Evangelical Seminarymakes this very point. "In the United States, accreditation is an entirely voluntary process, done by private, non-governmental agencies." Walston's Guide to Earning Religious Degrees Non-traditionally, 3rd Edition: Non-Traditional Education in America and Abroad, An Investigative Report (Longview, WA: Persuasion Press, copyright 1997 by Rick L. Walston): 53. Emphasis in original.
7Bizarre HTML formatting in original.
8The correct quotation is, "CULTIST NOVAK NOW WRITES." Capitalization in original.
9This is sheer nonsense. One does not "represent" FARMS when one writes a review anymore than James White represents Bethany House when they publish one of his books. Every FARMS Review of Books and before that Review of Books on the Book of Mormon contains a disclaimer to the effect that "the opinions expressed in these reviews are not necessarily those of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) or the editor . . . ." This is common journalistic practice, although the point seems lost on the critics of the Review.
10CES Catalog, p. 64. Emphasis in original.
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