The former coordinator of a university program through which Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe obtained a degree says she objected to the degree “from the outset” but was pressured to approve it.
Linda Spinelli, who retired in May from Virginia Commonwealth University, wrote a memo dated Oct. 1 that the Observer obtained a copy of Friday.
She wrote that the dean over her program, Jon Steingass, pushed her to “determine a way to make this (Monroe's degree) happen” in December 2006 and to sign Monroe's application for graduation in 2007. She said she refused to sign, describing a meeting she had with Steingass that spring.
“I went to his office and told him I could not sign it because it was not fair to all the others” in her program, she wrote. “He asked me if I understood that this was something that needed to happen. I told him that I was not going to sign it.
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“Dean Steingass then signed the application and tossed it back at me.”
Spinelli was the coordinator of the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program at VCU in Richmond, Va., where Monroe was then police chief. Steingass, the former University College dean, resigned from the school this year as a result of the degree scandal. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Monroe became chief in Charlotte in June. A bachelor's degree was a requirement for the job.
Monroe received a VCU degree in interdisciplinary studies in May 2007. This year, after media reports detailing questions about Monroe's degree, a university committee found that the chief had received preferential treatment and, as a transfer student, had not earned enough credits to qualify for a VCU degree.
The committee said it found no evidence Monroe did anything wrong and allowed him to keep his diploma. Committee members said they encountered “considerable difficulties” during their investigation, including faulty memories and conflicting testimony.
Monroe earned enough credits for a degree, but mostly through the online University of Phoenix and the FBI Academy. To earn a VCU degree, a transfer student must take 25 percent of his coursework from the school.
In Monroe's case, that would have been 30 credit hours, but Monroe's two VCU classes earned him only six.
In a report last month, VCU officials said they reviewed more than 15,000 degrees granted since 2002 and found only two – Monroe's and a posthumous degree – awarded to students who didn't meet the 25 percent standard without an approved exception. A Virginia legislative committee is investigating.
Monroe says he believes he earned the degree. He has repeatedly declined to publicly discuss details about his interactions with VCU. He has said only that he spoke in 2006 with Robyn Lacks, a VCU associate professor, about what he needed to do to obtain his degree, then followed her instructions.
Monroe did not return a phone call or respond to an e-mail Friday.
Spinelli wrote the memo to the president of the University Senate in response to a professor's summation of the controversy. Spinelli could not be reached Friday.
The Observer obtained a copy of the memo from a source who identifies himself via e-mail as “harry potter.” The man says he is a VCU employee with intimate knowledge of the situation. A source named “harry potter” kick-started the controversy this spring by providing Richmond media with information that led to VCU's review of Monroe's degree.
University Rector Thomas Rosenthal confirmed Friday that Spinelli wrote a memo to the school about Monroe's degree and that the quotes and description of the memo in this story match those in the document he has.
The memo received by the Observer contains no allegation that Monroe asked or arranged for the special treatment. In her memo, Spinelli said she and Monroe never spoke about his degree – unusual, she said, because she was the program coordinator.
Spinelli doesn't say why she believes Steingass was so adamant about granting Monroe's degree. But she wrote that she explained Monroe's shortage of hours to Steingass at least three times, and “it was made clear to me that Chief Monroe's degree was something that needed to happen, whether I objected or not.”
According to Spinelli:
Steingass gave her Monroe's academic transcript in December 2006 and asked her to take a look. Spinelli realized that Monroe had “plenty of acceptable transfer credits” but would need to earn 30 hours at VCU for a degree from the school. She told Steingass.
“I was told I needed to determine a way to make this happen,” Spinelli wrote, but didn't describe specific actions Steingass expected her to take. “At this point, I felt it was a done deal and there was nothing I could do to stop it.”
The media reports on the controversy surfaced in May, when they were first reported by a Richmond television station. Spinelli retired that month but said in the memo that the timing was “purely coincidental.”