World

From Kansas Schoolchildren, a Lesson in Investigative Journalism 

Students working on the high school’s paper discovered the new principal’s MA and PhD degrees came from an unaccredited university.

The student journalists who landed the scoop. Credit: Emily Smith/Pittsburg High School/Kansas City Star

The student journalists who landed the scoop. Credit: Emily Smith/Pittsburg High School/Kansas City Star

New Delhi: It’s a media ‘proprietor’s’ worst nightmare – to end being investigated by his or her own journalists. It doesn’t happen often, not in India or even the United States, but a recent example from a high school in Kansas has become an exemplar of what journalism should be about – student journalism, and also the ‘grown up’ variety.

An incoming high school principal in Kansas was forced to resign from her $93,000 a year job when student reporters at the school’s newspaper raised questions about her academic credentials, the Kansas City Star reported.

Amy Robertson, the would-be principal of Pittsburg High School, received her master’s and doctoral degrees from Corllins University, which the students found out is an unaccredited, online school after following up on an anonymous letter sent to the paper, according to the Pittsburg Morning Sun.

The Sun also raised doubts about Robertson’s theatre production undergraduate degree from the University of Tulsa, saying the institution may not have offered the particular degree when Robertson was attending.

Alarm bells started ringing when the student reporters found several news articles that described Robertson’s university as a “diploma mill – where people can buy a degree, diploma or certificates.” And the Star confirmed their findings, saying searches on the university’s website “go nowhere,” adding that nobody from the institution had responded to emails from the Star.

Trina Paul, a twelfth grader and one of the editors of the Booster Redux told the Star, “She [Roberston] was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials.”

Maddie Baden, an eleventh grader who was part of the investigation said that their online searches for Robertson threw up several articles from Gulf News about an English language school in Dubai that she worked at.

In 2012, Robertson was accused of “not being authorised” to be the principal of Dubai American Scientific School and after receiving an “unsatisfactory” rating from Dubai’s education authority for four years running, it was closed down in September 2013.

Robertson responded to the Star‘s email about her resignation, saying there was “no issue” when she received her degrees from Corllins in 1994 and 2010, saying the university lost accreditation after she had completed her courses there. AP also reported that Robertson dismissed the student journalists’ findings and refused to comment on them saying, “their concerns are not based on facts.”

The Pittsburg School Board accepted Robertson’s resignation on Tuesday, with superintendent Destry Brown telling the board, “In light of the issues that arose, Amy Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position.”
Proud Emily Smith, the school’s journalism advisor told the Star that her students “were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired. They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”