In VCU flap, Monroe sends poor message

Rodney Monroe is missing the point.

Whether he sought preferential treatment or not, Charlotte-Mecklenburg's police chief received a degree from Virginia Commonwealth University that he did not earn. Instead of defensively parsing who is or isn't to blame, he needs to acknowledge that fundamental fact and do what it takes to earn a degree that isn't tarnished.

His credibility, not his ability to be a strong chief of police, is at stake.

We like what Monroe has done in Charlotte in his first four months on the job. We think he can thrive here. His college degree isn't what qualified him for the job – his performance as police chief in Macon, Ga., and Richmond, Va., is. There should be no question whether he should remain as chief, or about whether the community should give him every chance to succeed.

But that doesn't mean he and VCU shouldn't right a wrong first. University and state investigations found the same thing: Monroe received preferential treatment in being awarded a degree in spring 2007 despite completing only six credit hours of the 30 hours that were required.

No one has presented evidence that Monroe sought that treatment. But he got it. And by clinging to the degree, even after it has been so thoroughly discredited, he sends an unacceptable message to the community and our children: Shortcuts are OK, if they get you what you need.

VCU, meanwhile, continues to hold primary responsibility for this mess. Investigators have not determined who was applying pressure to award Monroe the degree. The top state investigator identified Robyn D. Lacks, assistant professor of criminal justice, as the only faculty member that had direct contact with Monroe, starting in the fall of 2006.

But the state report said Jon Steingass, who was then dean of University College, appeared to have pressured Linda Spinelli, then the coordinator of the bachelor of interdisciplinary studies program, to develop a plan that would allow Monroe to obtain a degree with only six credit hours. Steingass, an associate under the dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, Robert Holsworth, said he was pressured by “someone at a higher level.” Holsworth says he has done nothing wrong; he is leaving the school in January.

We've said all along that VCU deserved blame for awarding Monroe this degree in violation of its own policies. But by not returning two calls that Virginia investigators say they made on Oct. 13 and Oct. 15, several days before they issued their report, Monroe raised questions about his willingness to cooperate.

This much is clear: VCU should revoke the degree, and provide Monroe with a path to earn it fairly.

Monroe told a group of Charlotte residents this week, “I've never asked anyone to do anything for me that I couldn't do for myself.”

It's time he did it.