Anthony Cupaiuolo recently got a letter from Columbia University offering him a Ph.D. for $600.
To be clear, Mr. Cupaiuolo already has a graduate degree from Columbia—a doctorate of social work, also known as a D.S.W. The letter was an announcement of the School of Social Work’s D.S.W.-to-Ph.D. conversion plan, which would allow those who graduated with a D.S.W. from 1967 to 1992 to convert their degrees to the better-known Ph.D. (Columbia replaced the D.S.W. with the Ph.D. in 1993.)
According to a university document, holders of the D.S.W. had been pushing for the option to convert their three letters to three different letters for at least a decade.
That wasn’t what bothered Mr. Cupaiuolo, who is a professor emeritus of public administration at Pace University. It was what he would have to do in order to get his Ph.D. In addition to the 600 bucks, he would have to provide four copies of the application, four sealed copies of his transcript, plus four copies of his dissertation.
His dissertation was more than 300 pages long, so four copies wouldn’t be cheap. And didn’t Columbia already have all of that stuff on file? Plus, wasn’t $600 a little steep? “I could have understood if they said ‘Hey, we’ve got permission to make the changes, and there’s a nominal fee,’” he says. “But why would it be so expensive and time-consuming?”
Mr. Cupaiuolo sent Columbia administrators a somewhat acerbic e-mail, but didn’t get a reply. The Chronicle also asked for an explanation and received the following written statement from a spokeswoman at Columbia:
The DSW has typically been considered a practice, not a research doctoral degree. The PhD, in contrast, is understood to be a research doctoral degree. When the School first awarded doctorates in the 1950′s, it awarded DSWs—for a research course of doctoral studies. The conversion was sought to align the degree awarded with the program of study. The copies are part of an administrative processing requirement.
For the record, Mr. Cupaiuolo says he got a great education at Columbia and never ran into any professional obstacles because of his D.S.W. degree (though once someone, upon seeing D.S.W. on his nametag, assumed he was an executive with the shoe company). It was the offer that struck him as “cheesy.”
Needless to say, he’s not going to be taking advantage of the conversion plan. “Why would I want it to say Ph.D. rather than D.S.W. on my tombstone?” he says. “That’s not going to do me any good because I’m going to be cremated.”