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Carol Ammons: A Degree of Education

On February 2nd, 2014, Tom Kacich posted an article about the controversy surrounding Carol Ammons’ college degree. Carol Ammons, who is running for the 103rd District Seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, enrolled in Walsingham University, an online University based in London, and completed a bachelor’s degree in business administration in “almost two years,” according to the article.

The article then went on to quote Erik Jakobsson, who is the husband of current and retiring House representative Naomi Jakobsson. He called for Ammons to drop out of the race and cited evidence while asserting that Walsingham University is a “diploma mill.”

For the purposes of this article, the question of whether Walsingham University is a diploma mill or not will be considered an irrelevant and utterly moot point. The focus will be on whether formal education matters at all for politicians; in other words, for current and aspiring politicians, does it matter whether they have a formal education or not?

Let’s do some research.

According to the Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article IV, “to be eligible to serve as a member of the General Assembly, a person must be a United States citizen, at least 21 years old, and for the two years preceding his election or appointment a resident of the district which he is to represent.”

Nowhere does it stipulate that a prospective member of the General Assembly must be educated in any particular manner, whether graduating from high school, college, or graduate school. The only requirements are that a prospective member must be a United States citizen, of a certain age, and living in the district he or she wants to represent for two years preceding the election or appointment.

Moving on quickly. Is it uncommon for a person to be elected without a college degree?

Although information about the educational backgrounds of members of state house of representatives remains unclear due to lack of research data, a quick glance at the United States House of Representatives reveals that while it is uncommon for representatives to be without a college degree, it’s not unheard of.

On September 2011, the National Journal published an article titled “An Unlikely Path: Members of Congress Without College Degrees.” The article highlights twenty eight members of the Senate and House of Representatives that achieved in politics without a formal bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.

Members include Senator Rand Paul, Representative Jon Runyan, and Representative Yvette Clarke. All, for one reason or another, did not obtain a bachelor’s degree and went on to represent their states or districts in Congress.

But will it matter here, in Champaign-Urbana? Erik Jakobsson claims that part of his criticism comes from the fact that “[Ammons] would represent the district that has Parkland College and the University of Illinois in it….”

But Ammons has another take. On her website, she writes:

This experience [with Walsingham University] has led me to redouble my commitment to opening doors for higher education in Illinois, especially for underserved and lower income populations. I intend to share my experiences with young people in our area who want to pursue college degrees, and to raise awareness of predatory higher education institution

The question still remains, however, if a formal college degree is necessary for someone running for political office. Even if Walsingham University was a fraud, a diploma mill, would it detract from the candidacy of Carol Ammons?

In earlier generations, it may not have. In an article titled “Many legislators succeed without a college degree,” written in the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas, an old-time Texas legislator is interviewed about the changing times, how many legislators used to not have a college degree, while now to run for political office it’s almost a requirement.

But the fact remains, whether anecdotal or not, many successful people have done well without obtaining a bachelor’s degree in all walks of life. Should we view Carol Ammons any differently, supposing Walsingham University is a fraud?

Some readers on the News-Gazette website took umbrage with the fact that Carol Ammons was assumed to be deceiving the people by passing off a fake degree.

cretis16 writes:

At the very least Ammons should “own up” to holding one of these Sears Catalog degrees. This is deceit, plain and simple. Trying to confuse the issue with all these side distractions about “the people’s will, etc” does not erase the fact that she is less than honest about this deception.

And chief21 writes, “True… pretty disgraceful for a candidate to pull such trickery. I will not be voting for anyone with a so-called degree from ‘it’s in the mail’ university.”

But cjwinla backs Ammons up. “Who cares where her degree came from and to somehow insinuate that this could impact her representation of the U of I and Parkland is elitist and outrageous.”

Ultimately, political candidates are evaluated by voters according to numerous standards, some of which may vary in importance from voters to voters. Whether Ammons has a legitimate degree or not may matter to some voters but matter little to others.

In the end, Ammons has valuable experience on the Champaign County Board and the Urbana City Council that may translate to success as a representative of District 103 in the Illinois State House of Representatives. Experience that may underscore the lack of importance of a bachelor’s degree in local, state, and national politics.

That, however, is for the voters to decide on March 18th, 2014, when they elect either Carol Ammons or Sam Rosenberg as the representative for District 103 in the Illinois State House of Representatives.




National Journal:

Amarillo Globe-News:

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(Ed. note: Opinion articles published on Smile Politely reflect only the views of the individual and not of the staff, editors, or company that owns the publication.)

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