Getting a PhD – at any price?


For some time rumors had been circulating that some African Adventist church leaders were less than truthful in the way they acquired their PhD. Now the truth has come out. On April 14 the South African newspaper The New Age published an article in which it was stated that Paul Charles, the communication director in the regional office of the church for the southern section of the African continent, and Paul Ratsara, the president of this region (South Africa-Indian Ocean Division) had acquired their doctorates in a fraudulent manner, with the aim of furthering their church career.

I followed the unfolding of this piece of news (mainly as the result of some excellent investigative journalism of Spectrum) with more than ordinary interest. I got to know Paul Ratsara some 25 years ago, and once you have met someone you automatically pay attention when that person’s name surfaces in the news. At the time I worked in the division office for Francophone Africa in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. (The division structure in Africa has since been changed considerably). I was invited to conduct an evangelistic campaign in Madagascar. It was a very special experience. During an entire month I preached every evening in the largest lecture hall of the university in the capital city Antananarivo. Every evening Paul Ratsara,  then a pastor in the church in Madagascar, was my translator. Through the years I have seen his ecclesial star rise. He was elected secretary of the division, and then president of the division of which also the church in his home union is a part.

At first it seemed as if Paul Charles was the main culprit. His doctoral degree appeared to be quite phony. It was a worthless piece of paper supposedly granted by a spurious, non-accredited institution in India. In acual fact, Mr. Charles did not even possess a regular bachelors degree. Paul Charles was extremely ambitious and believed that a PhD-title would be advantageous for his church career. It seemed to work. He was about to move to the United States, where he was appointed as an associate leader in the communication department of the General Conference. Of course, that offer is no longer valid.

Paul Ratsara received his doctorate from UNISA, a respected South-African university. But after close investigation it became clear that  there was a serious problem. The rumor that Paul Ratsara did not actually write most of his dissertation himself was found to be true. A church worker named Hopeson Bonya came forward and confessed that he had written five of the six chapters of the dissertation. When the story further developed Ratsara’s credibility had been so much damaged that he felt he had no option but to resign from the division presidency.  At this point GC president Ted Wilson became more actively involved, since a division president is also a vice-president of the General Conference. At first it appeared that Wilson did not think Ratsara’s mistake had been such that he would have to resign from his position. Wilson’s role in this affair is highly questionable. It raises the question whether the General Conference does not place high importance on the moral integrity of his colleaques. But Ratsara felt he could not remain in his office and he did resign, however without admitting any wrongdoing.

The whole story makes you wonder why people—especially those in high church leadership roles—want to have a PhD so badly, that they are even prepared to sacrifice their integrity as a Christian leader.

A completed academic education is a ‘must’ for those who aspire to teach in an institution for higher learning. And there may be other valid reasons a person would want to pursue a doctorate. However, I know from experience that writing a dissertation is fram from easy while holding a fulltime church office. If at the time I had not been able to take a year’s study leave, I might still be working on my degree. Pursuing a PhD at a reputable university demands sacrifice, usually also by the partner. Anyone who has this aspiration must decide whether it is worth all the sacrifice, and whether it is a realistic project.

Most importantly, one must realize that a person’s value, and his competence in his work depends on many different factors and not just on whether or not one has a PhD. And if a person thinks he needs a PhD to further his international church career, he is totally misguided.

After the recent incidents the discussion should not focus on the importance of doctoral degrees, but on personal integrity. I assume many have by now understood this. Hopefully this also applies to the highest echelons of church leadership. Regrettably some leaders did not give a clear moral signal when confronted with the recent events. It makes one wonder.


8 thoughts on “Getting a PhD – at any price?

  1. George_Tichy

    One of the main problems is that Ted Wilson knew about this all since 2014 and did absolutely nothing. When he was getting emails from a person with initials CP, after all the email address was blocked and CP couldn’t send more info. But at that time TW already knew everything.that was going on at the SID.
    The next was that CP got email (or was it emails?) from the SID attorney trying to intimidate him with serious threats if he didn’t stop revealing info on the case. But the attorney didn’t know that CP was a strong personality, not afraid of denouncing the conspiracy. Let’s call it PhD-Gate!

    So, what should happen now with Ted Wilson, who tried to cover it up? If he did not inform his team at the GC he is certainly paret of the conspiracy team, those who were manuvering things at the SID.

    How can Ted Wilson explain 2 years hiding the information????
    Perhaps it’s also time for him to pack up and go!!!

    1. Rohan

      George, what’s happened to Spectrum Conversation? Rohan here by the way….Hope it comes back soon.

      1. George_Tichy

        Hey Rohan,
        I am not sure. It seems that Spectrum finally canceled the dialogue and opted for posting exclusively read only articles, with no room for any comment either on the OneGate or the LoungeGate. I won’t be surprised if this is the case. I have the impression that the GC has its hands in this.
        If this is actually the case, it’s sad. Spectrum was the best site for many years, the more open minded, but bit by bit started to restrict the dialogue.
        And what do we do now? Where do we go? So far I am finding AToday being the best option. Remember my email:

        1. Rohan

          Thanks George! I’m glad it’s back. Nice to hear from you. I realized how much I’d miss you all if Spectrum was suddenly read only!

      2. George_Tichy

        Update from Jared on FBook:

        Jared Wright Spectrum Hey George, if something is up, it’s temporary, and we’ll make sure it gets fixed as soon as we can. I’ve got a birthday party for my son today, so it’ll be a while before I can address it personally.

        Like · Reply · 1 · 10 hrs

        Jared Wright Spectrum

        Jared Wright Spectrum I’ve had a little time this afternoon to look into it, and I see that the commenting section in Discourse is in “read only” mode. I’ve put in a work request with our webmaster to address it. We hope to have that fixed asap.

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