SOUTH KINGSTOWN – On Friday, April 13, 2012, an article in The Narragansett Times raised questions regarding the existence of a MBA and physical education master’s degrees program coordinated through the Institute for International Sport on the University of Rhode Island.
A recent interview with Dr. Robert B. Turcotte, former Graduate School Academic Dean at the University of Rhode Island, revealed that there was never a graduate program offered by the Institute in conjunction with URI.
Students mentioned in the April 13, 2012 article, Turcotte firmly said, possess legitimate valid URI graduate degrees. As the Director of the Graduate School’s Admissions Office at URI, Turcotte, who retired in 1992, said he admitted the students to the university’s graduate school and he approved their graduation.
“Nothing is more important and valuable to graduate students or their parents than the integrity of the degree in which their precious time, significant cost and great effort has been spent to achieve a life-time goal,” Turcotte stated.
The Institute and its executive director, Daniel Doyle, are at the heart of a state police probe into the whereabouts of $7.3 million in state dollars, including a $575,000 legislative grant intended to construct a facility that remains an empty, chipped away building- on the Kingston campus.
Questions of the existence of a degree program began to surface after an anonymous source close to the Institute provided The Narragansett Times with a July 25, 1990 article in The New York Times. The story described the renowned Institute and the fake “Sports Corp” program, which it claimed provided masters degrees in sports management offered in conjunction with URI’s departments of business and physical education.
It depicted one native Ireland student who completed an academic internship in the Caribbean “teaching retarded children and adults how to play soccer and volleyball and trying to convince teachers that sports can enhance the quality of life for the retarded” Another student from Haverford College helped organize the National Championships for Blind Athletes in Colorado Springs.
“Up to now, 19 students have enrolled in the Institute’s degree programs. Eight have been admitted into the M.B.A. program and 11 to the Master of Science program, both of which last two years and include six-month internships. So far, Mr. Doyle said, there have been about 100 applicants for 13 graduate-level openings for the 1990-91 academic year,” read The New York Times article.
Yet, Doyle’s never reached his goal to turn the sports nonprofit into a graduate program.
The Institute had never gone through the extensive process required for approved graduate programs. Sheila Black Grubman, the coordinator of the Faculty Senate, the body in charge of granting graduate programs, referred to the University of Manual.
According to the manual, an academic department must make a series of proposals to the Graduate Council to the Faculty Senate and to the president of the university. The process includes a coordinating and review committee who evaluates the proposed program and the Budget Office who conducts a financial review of the program. If approved, the president would present the program to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education.
Though the programs were never approved, it was mainly a result of a lack of resources. At the time, URI offered the only accredited master’s in business administration program in the state and had its hands full, Turcotte said. To add another degree – international sports management – may have stretched resources thin and jeopardized the graduate program’s accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
“Each department has to decide whether or not it has enough resources and faculty to devote to the program,” Turcotte said. “We couldn’t offer the courses required to do this and if the value to gain ratio is not there, we won’t offer it. That’s why no one was excited about the idea of an international sports management degree.”
For that reason, no MBA degree in international sports was ever approved or awarded by URI.
However, some faculty, anticipating future approval, expanded course content of seminars to include international sports. Two physical education electives were introduced to address the impact of sports in other countries. While 30 credits are required to earn a Master’s degree, these two courses amounted to six credits and were not required for graduation.
In 1988 Doyle presented proposed marketing literature claiming the existence of graduate MBA and physical education programs offered through the Institute. Yet, Turcotte said he put a stop to Doyle’s attempts.
Within 1,629 recently released documents is one May 12, 1988 letter from Turcotte to Doyle, J. Richard Polidoro, the former chair of the Department of Physical Education, and the late Thomas R. Pezzullo, who served on the Institute’s program advisory committee, that demonstrates the head to head conflict between URI’s acedemic watchdog and the suspect nonprofit director.
“In my professional opinion, the Institute must be either fish or fowl. It cannot claim an allegiance it does not have to the university’s academic programs and courses,” Turcotte wrote.
While the Institute’s proposed brochures advertised a relationship between URI and the Institute to develop a sports management program that included a six month internship, Turcotte objected to every claim.
After prospective students supposedly read about the bogus degree program in The New York Times, Turcotte and his staff began to notice applications to the graduate school which specified sports management or international sports. Turcotte said he sent a letter to each applicant, informing them that no such graduate programs were offered by URI. Copies of the letters were sent to the departments of business and physical education but never to the Institute, Turcotte said.
“It is clear that Doyle used the Institute’s physical proximity to the University and tried to reproduce its grant getting scheme to create and present an artificial academic relationship to prospective students,” Turcotte stated.
Matt Paknis, a business consultant based in Boston and former undergraduate of Brown University, is one student cited in The Narragansett Times for studying under the embroiled nonprofit.
Paknis, who graduated from the URI with an MBA on Aug. 14, 1992, said he discovered the Institute’s fictitious program “through a friend and former Brown teammate who was in it. I found out they had a unique program. It seemed fascinating.”
During his graduation study, he was told courses would be coordinated through the Institute but he said this never happened.
“I was one of the first MBA students to be admitted to what was advertised as a collaborative degree effort between the university and the Institute. After I started my classes, I realized there was no collaboration and I worked hard to meet the requirements of the degree sans the Institute,” Paknis said.
Upon review of his former curriculum, Paknis did not take any electives through the Institute and all of his course work was coordinated through URI.
Though Paknis was promised internships by the Institute that would advance his study, these never materialized.
“There was one thing the institute promised – great internships- that never panned out. Several of my coaches and professors said keep your distance from Doyle – there was a rumor that he made promises that fell through,” he recalled. “As a result of these warnings and because I was very busy coaching and as a certified math instructor in the state, I kept my distance from Doyle and the Institute.”
Therefore, Paknis found his own internships, such as a team building internship at the Alton Jones campus.
“After seeing the program did not pan out as advertised, my primary focus was to teach, coach and provide team building seminars during the day while earning my degree though URI with scheduled night classes,” Paknis said.
Through his self enterprise and study of URI approved courses, Paknis was able to develop his own business. He now works with corporations to apply leadership and team theories and application to foster successful businesses outcomes.