Daniel Ruth: Whatever degree she may or may not have, mayor qualifies in chutzpah

Mayor Mel Jurado presides over the Sept. 4 meeting of the Temple Terrace City Council. [TAILYR IRVINE   |   Times]
Mayor Mel Jurado presides over the Sept. 4 meeting of the Temple Terrace City Council. [TAILYR IRVINE | Times]
Published October 10 2018

Perhaps the tip-off Temple Terrace Mayor Mel Jurado's alleged doctoral degree was (ahem) about as worthless as a Venezuelan $1 bill was when she started pimping her dubious bona fides on her personalized license plate, "DRMEL." Really? Not.

Since the late 1970s, I've taught classes at the University of Tampa, Columbia College in Chicago and currently as a faculty member for the University of South Florida's Honors College. For the record, I have a master's degree in mass communications from USF.

And the one thing you learn hanging around universities is that it is considered extremely declasse for anyone with a doctorate to use the degree for self-promotion outside of campus and/or their respective scholarly area of expertise. A "DRMEL" license plate? A big no-no.

Chances are that had Jurado simply confined her little charade to her consulting business and relatively low-profile appointments to various local community boards her efforts to convince people she was more educated than she actually was might well have gone unnoticed.

But as mayor of Temple Terrace, Jurado's claim of possessing a Ph.D., as well as another advanced degree, was bound to eventually bite her in the diploma. And it did.

Days ago Tampa Bay Times reporters Christopher O'Donnell, Philip Morgan and John Martin revealed Jurado's supposed Ph.D. in psychology was issued by a now defunct unaccredited diploma mill, LaSalle University in Louisiana. The fake school was shut down after it was raided by FBI agents in 1996.

Jurado told the reporters she took various correspondence courses and wrote a 460-page dissertation to get the advanced degree. She also has claimed she possesses a master's in sports medicine from the University of Illinois, although the school has no record of the mayor ever receiving the degree.

The mayor insisted she never saw anything strange about LaSalle, although the phony school's claims that one could receive a legitimate Ph.D. in psychology for a mere $2,300 ought to have set off a cacophony of alarm bells.

As well, Jurado explained her dissertation was reviewed and defended before a committee composed of local Tampa notables, such as retired Hillsborough Circuit Judge Dennis Alvarez and then-Boys and Girls Clubs president Glen Permuy, neither of whom remember very much about the event.

No matter. Obtaining a Ph.D. at an accredited university requires years of work and meticulous research. And defending one's dissertation takes place before a committee of the school's professors knowledgeable about the subject area. Jurado's dissertation defense was akin to writing a paper on quantum physics before a committee of English majors.

If Jurado was so intent on getting a doctorate in psychology, or perhaps a related field, she had access to a very fine university right down the road from Temple Terrace — USF. Her claim USF was not an option since its graduate program was for a dual master's/Ph.D. curriculum rings hollow, considering the mayor apparently had a penchant for collecting diplomas.

At the end, even if you give Jurado the benefit of the doubt for trying to get a doctorate on the quick and on the cheap from LaSalle, the master's degree in sports medicine from Illinois is more problematic. The university has no record of the degree. That issue goes directly to Jurado's credibility and intellectual honesty.

We don't expect our public officials to be perfect. We certainly don't expect them to be terribly bright.

But it ought not to be too much to ask that when someone wants to be mayor of a city, they should at the very least be able to prove they graduated from the schools they claim to have attended.

Mel Jurado certainly has proven she does have an advanced sheepskin more than qualifying her to teach a master class in chutzpah.

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