Union Democrat staff

"It is better to deserve honors and not have them, than to have honors and not deserve them."

-Mark Twain

The Columbia Elementary School District board announced in May that Superintendent John Pendley will be leaving. But not anytime soon.

He's staying until his contract expires, which is in two more years.

That's two years too many for a school district that has suffered one embarrassment after another at the superintendent's hands.

First, there was the sex scandal involving his son and all the manipulation and cover-up that followed.

Now, there's the issue of his dubious degree.

Turns out "Dr. Pendley," as he likes to be called, got his doctorate from a discredited diploma mill that formerly operated in Mandeville, La. - LaSalle University.

The degree and university were the subject of a story by UD reporter Brenna Swift, which appeared in last Friday's paper.

LaSalle was raided by the FBI in 1996, following a multi-year investigation. Its operator, Thomas Kirk, was later convicted of tax evasion and fraud.

LaSalle reorganized shortly thereafter, but it limped along unaccredited, issuing questionable degrees until finally shuttering in 2002.

Pendley has declined to tell the newspaper directly when he enrolled at the school, but claims he graduated in December 1998.

Based on various timelines he's supplied to different people at different times, he either enrolled while the school was under investigation circa 1995, while it was being broken up by the FBI the following year, or in the aftermath of the FBI investigation in mid-1997.

He's given the latter date most recently. If it's to be believed, he completed his doctorate - the highest academic degree awarded by universities - in about 18 months.

That's less time than it takes to get an associate's degree at a junior college. Most Ph.D.s take five to eight years to earn.

At the early-May board meeting, Pendley described LaSalle as "seeking accreditation" when he "graduated."

That's a half-truth if ever there was one.

The dubious LaSalle degree is hardly what one would expect of a highly paid government leader -let alone an "educator."

His actions demean educational standards and cheapen the value of legitimate degrees.

Pendley has set the worst possible example for a dedicated group of teachers and hundreds of talented children at a school that prides itself on academic excellence.

(For doing this weighty job well - or, as is the case, not - he's handsomely paid. Last year, his salary was greater than California Gov. Jerry Brown's.).

The LaSalle degree is just one facet of a clear pattern of behavior by Pendley, and it's not good. He's manipulative and evasive.

Columbia El. Trustee Jeff Tolhurst, himself a Ph.D. and the only board member who seems to get it, touched on this when asked about Pendley's doctorate.

"If we want integrity ... then the degree comes into play," he said. "What other things are we not being honest about?"

One can only guess. But why wait around for the next deceit to surface?

John Pendley just needs to go. The sooner the better.