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Monroe gets to keep degree

Virginia Commonwealth University broke its own rules last year in awarding a bachelor's degree to Rodney Monroe, but Monroe did nothing wrong and can keep the degree, the university announced Friday.

The university said it “found no evidence of academic misconduct” by Monroe, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and former Richmond police chief. At a news conference in Richmond Friday, VCU Rector Tom Rosenthal said the school administration and governing body “agree that the degree should stand.”

But unnamed VCU employees made “serious errors in judgment” and may be disciplined, said Rosenthal, who heads the university's governing Board of Visitors. He criticized the employees for not cooperating with the monthlong investigation. He declined to name the employees, citing university personnel policies.

The university's announcement “confirms what I have known and said all along – I earned my degree, and I sought no favors from VCU,” Monroe said in a prepared statement. “I was happy to cooperate in the university's inquiry. I am disappointed that it took so long to wrap up.”

Monroe, who started work in Charlotte on June 16, was undergoing scheduled dental surgery Friday afternoon and was unavailable for further comment, said Charlotte spokeswoman Kim McMillan. A bachelor's degree was a requirement for the chief's job.

The VCU officials who granted Monroe's degree bypassed a committee that needs to approve any deviation from degree requirements, Rosenthal told the Observer Friday. He said he doesn't know why they broke the rules, but the board has encouraged school administrators “to review all policies and procedures to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

Last year, VCU awarded Monroe a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies. Monroe took only two classes, worth six credit hours, to complete his degree.

As a transfer student, he would have had to take 30 credit hours, or 25 percent of the total coursework, to earn a VCU degree. He had taken the bulk of his classes at other schools, mainly the online University of Phoenix, and through the FBI Academy.

Monroe told The Richmond Times-Dispatch last year that he met in late 2006 with Robyn Lacks, an assistant professor and co-director of VCU's Public Safety Institute, to discuss what he needed to do to earn his degree. Lacks and Linda Spinelli, who coordinated the interdisciplinary studies bachelor's program until her retirement last month, have not returned multiple calls and e-mails from the Observer.

The school can waive some requirements in granting a degree. But VCU reviewed all degrees it had granted since 2003 and determined Monroe's was the only case, aside from posthumous degrees, in which a student did not meet the 30-hour requirement, or “residency rule,” Rosenthal said.

The probe, though, “found no evidence that … Monroe had any role in requesting an exception to this residency rule, or even was aware that the rule existed, or that an exception was granted.”

Questions about the degree emerged a month ago, when a Richmond television station reported that the university was investigating whether it should have granted the degree. The station cited an anonymous source who claimed city and university officials “pushed through” the degree for the popular Monroe, who had been the Richmond chief since 2005.

City Manager Curt Walton chose Monroe last month from a field of 46 candidates and defended his choice Friday.

“The city of Charlotte was always confident in the process it underwent to hire Rodney Monroe as its new chief,” Walton said. “Now it's time to get to work.”

Virginia Commonwealth University broke its own rules last year in awarding a bachelor's degree to Rodney Monroe, but Monroe did nothing wrong and can keep the degree, the university announced Friday.

The university said it “found no evidence of academic misconduct” by Monroe, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and former Richmond police chief. At a news conference in Richmond Friday, VCU Rector Tom Rosenthal said the school administration and governing body “agree that the degree should stand.”

But unnamed VCU employees made “serious errors in judgment” and may be disciplined, said Rosenthal, who heads the university's governing Board of Visitors. He criticized the employees for not cooperating with the monthlong investigation. He declined to name the employees, citing university personnel policies.

The university's announcement “confirms what I have known and said all along – I earned my degree, and I sought no favors from VCU,” Monroe said in a prepared statement. “I was happy to cooperate in the university's inquiry. I am disappointed that it took so long to wrap up.”

Monroe, who started work in Charlotte on June 16, was undergoing scheduled dental surgery Friday afternoon and was unavailable for further comment, said Charlotte spokeswoman Kim McMillan. A bachelor's degree was a requirement for the chief's job.

The VCU officials who granted Monroe's degree bypassed a committee that needs to approve any deviation from degree requirements, Rosenthal told the Observer Friday. He said he doesn't know why they broke the rules, but the board has encouraged school administrators “to review all policies and procedures to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

Last year, VCU awarded Monroe a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies. Monroe took only two classes, worth six credit hours, to complete his degree.

As a transfer student, he would have had to take 30 credit hours, or 25 percent of the total coursework, to earn a VCU degree. He had taken the bulk of his classes at other schools, mainly the online University of Phoenix, and through the FBI Academy.

Monroe told The Richmond Times-Dispatch last year that he met in late 2006 with Robyn Lacks, an assistant professor and co-director of VCU's Public Safety Institute, to discuss what he needed to do to earn his degree. Lacks and Linda Spinelli, who coordinated the interdisciplinary studies bachelor's program until her retirement last month, have not returned multiple calls and e-mails from the Observer.

The school can waive some requirements in granting a degree. But VCU reviewed all degrees it had granted since 2003 and determined Monroe's was the only case, aside from posthumous degrees, in which a student did not meet the 30-hour requirement, or “residency rule,” Rosenthal said.

The probe, though, “found no evidence that … Monroe had any role in requesting an exception to this residency rule, or even was aware that the rule existed, or that an exception was granted.”

Questions about the degree emerged a month ago, when a Richmond television station reported that the university was investigating whether it should have granted the degree. The station cited an anonymous source who claimed city and university officials “pushed through” the degree for the popular Monroe, who had been the Richmond chief since 2005.

City Manager Curt Walton chose Monroe last month from a field of 46 candidates and defended his choice Friday.

“The city of Charlotte was always confident in the process it underwent to hire Rodney Monroe as its new chief,” Walton said. “Now it's time to get to work.”

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