Ms. Virginia E. Palmer, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Hanoi, Welcomes California Miramar University’s 6th MBA Cohort (Source: California Miramar University)
This is the kind of headline that immediately conjures up images of MasterCard’s Priceless advertising campaign. Having two U.S. Embassy representatives, including a deputy chief of mission, and the country director of a well-known U.S. nonprofit organization whose slogan is Opening Minds to the World as VIP guests (and speakers) at the opening ceremony for California Miramar University’s (CMU) 6th MBA Cohort in Hanoi last April is a textbook example of “honor by association.”
CMU, which appears on my list of Nationally Accredited U.S. Institutions with a Vietnam Connection, is something of a U.S. higher education rags-to-riches story. It was formerly Pacific Western University (PWU), an unaccredited school founded in 1977 that received a large and well-deserved share of unfavorable media attention in its day and was the subject of a 2004 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation entitled Diploma Mills: Federal Employees Have Obtained Degrees from Diploma Mills and Other Unaccredited Schools, Some at Government Expense.
In 2006, PWU attempted to change its name to California University, an idea that was not well received by the University of California legal department. In this December 2006 Inside Higher Ed article aptly titled What’s in a Name? Jennifer Inez Ward, a spokeswoman for the University of California system, was quoted as saying “This reportedly proposed use could create a ‘likelihood of confusion,’ which is the test for trademark infringement.”
PWU was reincarnated as California Miramar University in 2007 and received Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) accreditation in 2009. CMU’s local partner in Hanoi is the Center for Systems Development (CSD), part of Vietnam National University. (CSD also offers a MBA program in cooperation with IMPAC University, a DETC-accredited institution based in Florida, USA.)
On a side note: Unlike the U.S. State Department, which is obliged to represent ALL officially accredited U.S. institutions of higher education without regard to type of accreditation (i.e., regional vs. national), the Institute of International Education (IIE) works exclusively with regionally accredited U.S. colleges and universities, last I heard. See the excerpt below about eligibility for participation in IIE’s U.S. Higher Education Fairs, excerpted from the IIE-Hong Kong website. (Disclosure: I served as country director of IIE-Vietnam from 2005-09.)
1. Only regionally accredited two-year, four-year, and graduate U.S. institutions may be represented at the IIE Fairs. English language and distance learning programs may only participate if representatives are prepared to provide information and answer questions about degree programs on the campus of the regionally accredited universities and colleges of which they are a part.
Finally, in terms of representation, I think that an official from Public Affairs or U.S. Commercial Service would suffice for this type of event, making both the U.S. school and its Vietnamese host happy. High-ranking officials (e.g., Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission, Consul General, etc.) should probably be reserved for events organized by regionally accredited U.S. colleges and universities operating in Vietnam and their local partners. That would send a more balanced message to the Vietnamese government, higher education community and public, as well as U.S. higher education colleagues.
After all, “officially accredited” encompasses a wide variety of postsecondary institutions ranging from the Bergin University of Canine Studies (“the world’s first and only academic institution dedicated to advanced education and research in the timeless human-canine relationship, canine-related businesses and leading-edge assistance dog training and partnerships”) and the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts to Harvard University and Stanford University. Not all US institutions of higher education are created equal and national accreditation is not comparable to regional accreditation – not even close.