Alumnus sues university over degree

Computer engineer insists he fulfilled course requirements

February 19, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Carl Stahlman is a member of Towson University's alumni association, has an $800 class ring, his name on a memorial brick at the school and fond memories of his parents attending his commencement in 1997.

But there's one thing Carl Stahlman doesn't have: a degree.

Stahlman has filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court seeking a court order that would require Towson University to give him the bachelor's degree in law enforcement that he says he earned when he finished his course work in May 1997.

Stahlman, a former Army captain who was honorably discharged last year, says he learned that university records showed he lacked a degree last year when a former employer contacted the school to verify his background.

"It was a slap in the face," said Stahlman, 30, of Laurel.

University officials say that federal law prohibits them from discussing a student's records. But they acknowledged that alumni records list Stahlman as a "non-degreed alumni," which means he attended the university but never earned a diploma.

Susanna Craine, a university spokeswoman, said that students are allowed to attend commencement even when they are unsure if they have passed all their courses or have work to complete.

University officials also have told Stahlman that he has the option of returning to the university to earn the credits they say he needs for his degree.

But Stahlman says he has earned his diploma. He said he is suing because he wants a judge to tell that to the school.

"I bent over backward and did everything I needed to do," Stahlman said. He finished his senior year with a 3.6 grade point average.

Stahlman said that in his last year at Towson, he received an "incomplete" in a psychology course and was told by a faculty adviser that he needed to "do something" about that grade to graduate.

He contacted the registrar's office and the grade was changed to an "F." In place of that course, Stahlman took a course in human sexuality. He knew the sexuality class was a sociology course and that he needed an upper level psychology course.

But Stahlman said his faculty adviser, who has since retired, read the course description and told him it would meet the upper-level credit requirements for his degree.

Stahlman said that in July his first civilian employer, an Alexandria, Va., technology firm, was told by university officials that he didn't have a degree.

Stahlman has a secure job as a computer network engineer, using skills he learned in his four years as an Army officer and four years in the enlisted ranks.

He began working for a defense contractor at the Pentagon two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and his career is unaffected by whether he has a diploma. But the degree could matter if he changes jobs or seeks a promotion, he said.

Stahlman served two hitches in the Army, enlisting after he graduated from high school in St. Clair, Missouri.

He earned his first year of college credits while serving in the ranks, and attended Mount St. Mary's College for his sophomore year. He then transferred to Towson University, where he enrolled in ROTC so that he would be commissioned as an Army officer after he completed his final two years.

He was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1997, then promoted to captain in December 2000 before he was honorably discharged. He said the Army never would have commissioned him as an officer or promoted him to captain if Army officials hadn't confirmed his status as a college graduate.

Paul Kotakis, a spokesman for the Army's ROTC program at Fort Monroe, Va., said a college degree is required for anyone who plans to complete ROTC training and earn an officer's commission.

But an Army spokesman said that ROTC officer candidates have sometimes been commissioned before wrapping up all of their course work. "It's up to the officer to see that the degree requirements are eventually met," said Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

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