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University denies Richmond elected official’s claim of doctoral degree

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Shonda Harris-Muhammed ran unopposed for her sixth district Richmond school board seat last November.

Without competition did not mean without a passionate campaign for the candidate, who repeatedly promoted transparency in leadership.

“It is your duty to hold us on the school board accountable,” Harris-Muhammed said before a crowded room at a candidate forum last September.

Her campaign website describes her 16 years of teaching experience, her dedicated commitment to children and her own education credentials. It was in those credentials that we recently discovered some inconsistencies, specifically when it comes to Harris-Muhammed's Doctorate degree.

Harris-Muhammed is referred to as Doctor by her colleagues on the school board. In fact her title is noted on the Richmond Public school's website in several different places. It's also written on name placards that identify her at public meetings in her elected capacity.

Harris-Muhammed's official campaign website states she earned the title in 2011 when she completed a PhD from Walden University, an accredited online school based in Minneapolis.

Her LinkedIn and Facebook pages say that she earned an EDD, or Doctorate of Education, from Walden in 2012. However, an online newsletter from December of 2012 stated that she was currently enrolled in a doctoral program.

We contacted Walden University to clear up the conflicting information.

The Walden Registrar confirmed that Harris-Muhammed had earned a Master's degree from Walden in 2005. The registrar then stated, "Shonda Harris-Muhammed has not received any other degrees from Walden University.”

We asked for more clarification.

The school wrote answers via email that confirmed Muhammed had previously been enrolled in PhD and EdD  programs, but the email again confirmed that Harris-Muhammed "did not complete or conferred in any doctoral program at Walden University”,

We took this information to Harris-Muhammed.

Beck: "Where is the EdD from?

Harris Muhammed: "I went through Walden University for my Doctorate of Education"

Beck : "And that was a completed program?"

Harris Muhammed: "Yes”

We then told Harris-Muhammed what Walden had told us.

Beck: "They told us that the highest degree that you had there was your Master's and they said the last degree that they had on record was from 2005 when you got your Master's there"

Harris-Muhammed: "I just completed my program in 2012 and I graduate this summer"

When we asked further about why there was no record of an earned degree, Harris Muhammed told us it was being withheld due to outstanding tuition she owed the University.

Beck: "You're saying once you pay your balance, you'll have your degree?"

Harris Muhammed: "I will have the piece of paper I would like to have once the balance is done.”

We again contacted Walden University and asked them to explain their policy about withholding degrees.

Walden explained to us that it is not their policy to withhold degrees because of an outstanding tuition balance. Walden explained in a separate email that  when a student completes a program they automatically earn the degree and it's reflected in the school records.

They explain that outstanding tuition may prevent students from getting a physical diploma or transcripts, but degrees are awarded regardless of any balance owed.

We asked the Chairman of the Richmond School Board his thoughts on our findings.

"In anything that we do, we want to be open and transparent," said Chairman Jeff Bourne.

Even still, Bourne believes this isn’t a matter for the school board.

"I think that's a personal issue for Shonda and she's going to deal with it and address it,” said Bourne.

Bourne also pointed out a few times that there are no degree requirements to serve on the board.

Bourne: "What is a prerequisite is making Richmond public schools the best it can be."

Beck: "Is honesty a prerequisite?”

Bourne: "Uh, I think that's for the voters who elect the school board to decide"

Harris-Muhammed told us after our interview on Monday that she would provide us with an academic advisor from Walden University who could confirm her degree.

We have yet to be contacted by anyone from Walden in regard to that matter.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that on Tuesday, Harris Muhammed’s official campaign site listed her as having a PhD from Walden in 2011. Wednesday, the day of our broadcast, her website changed indicating an EdD from Walden in 2011.

Again, Walden tells CBS 6 news that neither degree has been conferred on Harris-Muhammed at his time.