Virginia legislators seek review of police chief's degree

A legislative committee wants Virginia Commonwealth University's Board of Visitors to see if it can revoke a degree it wrongly granted to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe.

Virginia House Appropriations Committee members on Monday asked VCU Rector Thomas Rosenthal and Provost Stephen Gottfredson to ask from the university's legal advisers on whether the board has the power to deny improperly awarded diplomas.

The request came after a General Assembly investigative panel presented its review of how VCU awarded Monroe a bachelor's of interdisciplinary studies degree in 2007, despite his only earning six of 30 required credit hours there. At the time, Monroe was police chief in Richmond.

VCU has allowed Monroe to keep the degree, saying university policy only allows revocation in instances of academic misconduct. It plans to change its policy to make it easier to revoke wrongly granted degrees.

“There are a lot of people very upset that he's allowed to keep his degree,” Rosenthal said after the hearing, during which legislators pointedly asked whether VCU had asked Monroe to return his degree or whether the General Assembly had the power to revoke it.

A university review panel previously found no evidence that Monroe did anything wrong, but noted that it encountered “considerable difficulties” – including faulty memories and conflicting testimony – during its investigation.

Monroe could not be reached Monday by the Observer, but has said that he believes he earned the degree. He has repeatedly declined to publicly discuss details about his interactions with VCU, and has said only that he spoke in 2006 with a VCU associate professor about what he needed to do to obtain his degree, then followed her instructions.

Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's report largely mirrored the report VCU submitted last month to its accreditation agency, finding that VCU administrators intentionally violated university policies when they allowed Monroe to pursue coursework that failed to meet at least five separate graduation requirements.

The report also found that the coordinator of VCU's interdisciplinary studies program felt that the dean of the University College, Jon Steingass, pressured her to develop a plan that would allow Monroe to receive a degree by May 2007. Steingass in turn said he felt “implied pressure from the VCU president's office,” but investigators didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing by President Eugene Trani.

Monroe was hired earlier this year as chief in Charlotte, where a bachelor's degree is required for the job. The report noted that he declined to return two telephone calls from the legislative review commission during the panel's investigation.

It's unclear why administrators allowed the improper degree, Greer said, because their motives weren't documented.

VCU started investigating the issue in May after Rosenthal received an anonymous e-mail detailing allegations about Monroe's degree. Investigators found that Monroe's diploma was one of only two awarded to students who failed to complete 30 credit hours at VCU; the other was awarded posthumously.

Before becoming chief in Richmond, Monroe served as police chief in Macon, Ga., and before that was an assistant police chief in Washington.

Observer staff reports contributed