Listen to this article

URBANA ā€” The husband of retiring state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, Saturday said that Carol Ammons should drop out of the 103rd District Illinois House race because she claims to have a higher education degree from what he called "a diploma mill."

Eric Jakobsson said Saturday that Ammons ā€” with whom he serves on the Urbana City Council ā€” claims a bachelor's degree in business administration from Walsingham University in London, and that "I have spent the last few days researching the university and trying to find any other explanation for it, other than it being a diploma mill. And I simply couldn't find anything."

Ammons issued a four-paragraph statement in response to Eric Jakobsson's charges in which she did not address his claim.

But in an interview, she said she believed she had a legitimate degree.

"I finished my online degree, like many of the universities that are doing online degree programs. As a mother, that's what I did," she said. "I did it while I was (raising) my children, getting my education and trying to run a small business out of my house."

She said "it took almost two years" to get her business administration degree from Walsingham and that she "absolutely" believed it is a valid degree.

A British government website (https://www.gov.uk/check-a-university-is-officially-recognised/overview) does not list Walsingham as either a "recognised" or "listed" body of higher learning.

In her written statement, Ammons accused her primary election opponent, Champaign attorney Sam Rosenberg, of participating in a "smear campaign."

Rosenberg said he knew nothing of Ammons' degree before being contacted by The News-Gazette Saturday afternoon.

"I think this is a very serious concern being brought to light by an Urbana City Council member. I can assure you Mr. Jakobsson did this on his own initiative and I had no part in his research. I would be willing to release my academic credentials, and I would hope my opponent would do the same," he said.

Ammons called herself a "fair person and an elected official, therefore, I will not be a part of a smear campaign or a negative campaign."

"I think the American people and the people of the 103rd District in Illinois have had enough of that type of fighting that gets us nowhere. I'd rather work to resolve the issues for the people as I've been doing for the past 13 years and the elements that are important in making Illinois a better place to live, strive and prosper.

"On my opponent's website, he says that he doesn't want to practice politics as usual ... from his fundraising collection from the elites in Chicago, to now, what appears to be the beginning of a smear campaign, which has nothing to do with the problems that need to be resolved here in Illinois, I would say he is doing just that. Practicing politics as usual.

"I am ready to fight issues for the people rather than fight people in order to make issues, unlike my opponent. I'm looking forward to our debates and serving the people of Illinois in a fair and progressive manner."

Eric Jakobsson, who had already endorsed Rosenberg in the two-way Democratic race in the 103rd House District that includes almost all of Champaign and Urbana, said his criticism of Ammons "is not politics as usual.

"When I thought about the relationship between what she had done and the possibility that she would represent the district that has Parkland College and the University of Illinois in it, that seemed to me to transcend politics as usual," he said.

Eric Jakobsson said his wife, who still has about 11 months remaining on her state representative term, is staying out of the dispute.

"I'm doing this all on my own," he said. "I don't know what the reaction is going to be. Sometimes when you call attention to a flaw in a popular person, sometimes people get very, very angry. I really thought that the right thing to do was to take this on myself."

Walsingham University, according to its website (http://www.walsingham.ac/ABOUT_US_2.html), was founded in 1954 and offers "home-study correspondence courses to students wishing to pursue a programme in liberal arts studies," and that it provides "courses in a distance learning format. We currently service international students from 26 countries around the world."

Eric Jakobsson said Walsingham "has all the earmarks of a diploma mill.

"It's not like a legitimate correspondence school or online course at all. Typically these diploma mills don't exist as educational institutions at all," he said. "The fact that they have the .ac domain, which is the favorite domain for many, many diploma mills. The fact that they have same telephone number in the UK as Stafford University, which was a notorious diploma mill. The fact that when I tried to Google the administration and faculty who were named on their website I couldn't find any evidence that these people actually existed. All of these things together, it has all the earmarks of a diploma mill."

Jakobsson called on Ammons to drop out of the race.

"I think that she should step down from the campaign for the 103rd. I think her actions have disqualified her from being able to represent the university and Parkland College," he said. "One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is because I've spent my whole career at the university, and diploma mills totally undercut and undermine and devalue what real institutions of higher education do, like Parkland and the University of Illinois. We just can't have someone in Springfield who doesn't value that."

Jakobsson said his relationship with Ammons on the city council has been cordial.

"There's not any friction. It's probably like everybody else on the council. I don't think there's anyone on the council with whom I have an identical voting record," he said, adding, "We often agree on things. There's absolutely no set of issues on the council that we have been at odds about."

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).