School board member Lilisa Mimms obtained a doctorate degree from a school called the Christian University, a little known alleged diploma mill that had its offices at a two-family home on East 29th Street.
Mimms graduated from the so-called university in 2009 with a perfect grade-point-average, according to a resume she submitted to the municipal government.
Some community leaders have raised questions about her credentials.
“Several people came up to me with it. It started out as a rumor. When I finally looked up the name of the school and the address to find out it was a house on East 29th Street that’s when I got a little leery about it,” said former school board member Corey Teague. “It raised a lot of suspicion in my mind.”
Mimms’ ostentatious use of the questionable degree invited further scrutiny. “She uses it as a badge of honor,” said political activist Ernest Rucker.
Both Teague and Rucker were suspicious of the degree and the school from which it was obtained. There was no Christian University at 534 East 29th Street, the address used by the school. A woman answered the door and stated the school had moved to an address on Franklin Street.
Passaic County Christian Center is located at the Franklin Street address. The church listed its pastors as Peter and Elisa Ramos.
Peter Ramos, who identified himself as the president of the Christian University, said the school closed two years ago. He said the so-called university had accreditation from the Riverside, Calf.-based Transworld Accrediting Commission International.
Ramos, who confirmed Mimms obtained her doctorate from his school, cited the accreditation to defend the school which issued ecclesiastical diplomas.
“It’s a degree in Christian ministry. So it’s not a secular degree,” said Ramos. “The school is not accredited by a regional accrediting firm, but a Christian organization. Our degrees are no way comparable to a secular degree. It’s just for ministry.”
A spokesman for the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education directed attention to a list of accredited institutions in Passaic County when inquired about the school and whether it was authorized to issue degrees. The spokesman would not comment about the school in question.
Ramos said the school was in operation for 12 years. He said the school had its office at the East 29th Street address. He said classes were hosted in hotel conference rooms and even at the Barnert Medical Arts Complex on Broadway.
20-25 people attended classes, said Ramos. He did not have a count of the number of people who were awarded doctorate degrees. He said a person typically spent 4-5 years as a part-time student prior to securing a degree.
Ramos did not have information on tuition costs.
The organization that provided accreditation to the Christian University is neither recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) nor the U.S. Department of Education.
A spokeswoman for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation provided a directory that lists recognized accreditors in the U.S. She also directed attention to a similar list from the U.S. Department of Education. Neither directory listed Transworld Accrediting Commission International as a recognized accreditor.
“CHEA is a separate group. We are not required to be with them,” said Steve Anderson, president of Transworld Accrediting Commission. He took offense at the description his organization was “fictitious.”
“We have legally operated in these United States for 30 years, as non-governmental, under religious exemption. The biased opinions of Get Educated and Wikipedia from years past, are simply that. We disagree,” said Anderson in an email.
Wikipedia lists Anderson’s organization as an “unrecognized higher education accreditation organizations.”
It remains unclear whether Mimms knew or understood the school’s suspect accreditation or whether she sought to bolster her credentials by obtaining a doctorate degree from any available organization.
Mimms has used the doctorate in a secular context at the school board to add the prefix doctor in front of her name.
School board president Christopher Irving said those prefixes are added through requests. He requested the doctor prefix be added to his name after securing a doctorate from Seton Hall University.
When asked if he thought Mimms’ and his degree carried the same weight, Irving replied, “If you are talking academically, clearly not. I worked extremely hard to be called a doctor. I’m sure she worked hard for her title. Let the people of Paterson decide who they want to call a doctor.”
Mimms did not respond to a call for comment for this report.
“There’s a rumor that an article is coming out regarding how I obtained my Doctorate degree. My degree was earned not given!” Mimms told her supporters in a social media posting on Monday. “Is it a crime to be educated? Or is it because I’m a [sic] educated woman from Paterson?”
Ramos said a doctorate issued by his organization is strictly for religious purposes. When asked if he thought it was appropriate for Mimms to use it in the secular realm of the school board, he replied, “That’s something that’s perhaps touchy. That’s something I’d discourage only because it gives the wrong impression that they went to Rutgers or Fairleigh Dickinson.”
Ramos said any title should make it clear the doctorate is in Christian counseling or theology. Mimms, who is running for an at-large council seat, uses the prefix on her campaign literature.
“She needs to address it,” said Teague. “If I’m supporting you and you are misrepresenting yourself that’s making me look bad.” He said she appears to use “Dr. Mimms” as a stage name similar to famous hip-hop star “Dr. Dre.”
Mimms’ school board term ends this month. Her resume states she attended Passaic County Community College for an associate’s degree and University of Phoenix for a bachelor’s in marketing. She also attended two bible schools.
“This has to be cleared up,” said Rucker, who supports Mimms.