Columns » Ernest Dumas

The scholars of Clinton



What are the chances that a little town of 2,300 would produce two scholars with Ph.D.s from a university in the Islamic kingdom of the United Arab Emirates?

That's exactly what we learned last week. Clinton, county seat of Van Buren County, boasts two residents with Ph.D.s from Belford University: Dr. Johnny Rhoda, a financial planner, preacher and prominent Republican Party leader, and Dr. Maxwell Sniffingwell, a stud English bulldog who lives with a local veterinarian.

Dr. Rhoda's doctorate is in business administration; Dr. Sniffingwell's is in theriogenology, a big name for the study of animal reproduction. You see, Belford University confers hundreds of degrees every year, not on the basis of coursework but of life experiences. Max Sniffingwell maintains that he has sired far more than his share of little bulldogs.

Johnny Rhoda has been a functionary in the Republican Party — he lost badly in a race for the state Senate in 1996 and he is the party's First Congressional District chairman — but last week the party's chairman, Doyle Webb, raised his prominence by making him the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Governor Beebe and the other constitutional officers, which alleges that their use of state cars puts them over the state salary limits. The suit is supposed to provide a big lift to Republican candidates.

Outside Van Buren County we might not have known about Rhoda's great academic achievements had it not been for Tim Griffin, the Republican candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives. Before the lawsuit, Griffin put out a news release announcing that Dr. Johnny Rhoda had come on board as an adviser to run his campaign in the northern part of the district.

Griffin referred to him as "Dr." and explained that he had a Ph.D. in business administration from Belford University and years of successful business dealings along with pastorship of a church. The church happens to be in Rhoda's home on a county road north of Clinton. Such were his business successes that the local bank foreclosed on his home/church because he had not made mortgage payments. The home/church was auctioned by the county clerk in July but Rhoda still holds services there. (He will also ordain you as a minister, for a small fee presumably, if you answer 25 questions about the Bible on his spiritual website.)

Belford University's sole presence in the United States, as far as anyone knows, is a postoffice box in Humble, Texas. You apply for a degree on the Internet by clicking on a box that says "Order Now." You pay a fee, depending on the degree you want and whether you want to graduate with honors, which costs an extra $75. The diploma is mailed within a week from a place where it is legal, Abu Dhabi.

Belford U. got extra notoriety this week when Dr. Ben Mays, a Clinton veterinarian, posted his bulldog Maxwell Sniffingwell's 2009 Ph.D. from Belford U., which cost him $549. Max's owner, a member of the state Board of Education, is on a small crusade to stop people from duping clients by advertising phony academic achievements. Arkansas is one of the places where it is still legal to gull clients that way.

Dr. Rhoda and Dr. Sniff will have to serve as Arkansas's entry in the fake resume sweepstakes. From the Connecticut Senate race, where one candidate had to backtrack on his hints that he had fought in Vietnam, to Christine O'Donnell's serial fabrications in Delaware, the election season has been marked by candidates getting caught in lies about their past and their qualifications.

In Arkansas, we have had to deal with only the usual petty exaggerations. Griffin, who fed us Rhoda's puffery, has had to scrub up his vitae from time to time. He had boasted that he had prosecuted 40 criminal cases during a stint as a Reservist at Fort Campbell, Ky. The Army said, however, that he had been an assistant counsel and only on three cases, none of which went to trial. Now his vitae says only that he worked on the case of a private who pleaded guilty to trying to kill his platoon sergeant.

Early resumes mentioned Griffin's work for Prosecuting Attorney Betty Dickey at Pine Bluff in 1996, when he managed her losing race for attorney general. Dickey nosedived when it was revealed that the courts had dropped charges against more than 90 persons because her office missed the speedy trial deadlines for trying them. That duty has been scrubbed from Griffin's life story. He was working for the government in Washington then.

For a guy whose career was spent trashing politicians of the other party, you could say those are trivial sins.

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