Thumbs down to the Morning News for a lapse in judgment. We printed a letter to the editor that we regret publishing.

“What about those honorary doctorates?” ran Tuesday on our Opinion page. Will Breazeale was the author. He has a clear agenda against Francis Marion University, a faculty member and FMU President Fred Carter, and we gave him space to rant. Shame on us.

Readers complained. We have listened. We will respond. More on that in a few paragraphs.

But first there’s a matter of degrees. Breazeale suggested that because he bought a doctoral degree in political science, he has the same credentials as Carter.

That claim, however facetious as Breazeale intended it, is as bogus as his degree.

Let’s compare true credentials. We know Breazeale has a bachelor’s degree in political science from FMU. He claims he received a master of arts in religion/pastoral counseling in 2012. He admits he paid for a Ph.D. Beyond that, he has had trouble with the law, and he has run for many public offices but never been elected.

Carter has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida. He earned a master’s in public administration from the University of South Carolina, then earned a Ph.D. in political science from USC. The key word there is “earned.” Beyond that, Carter’s military, government and academic credentials are impeccable. He is the ultimate communitarian.

Legitimate degrees involve years of classwork. The protocols are well established across the academic world. Most doctoral degrees take at least three years to earn, and they are completed with time-consuming dissertations. These degrees are accredited by well-recognized organizations.

When straw dogs say they have an accredited degree, they have paid for-profit, fly-by-night accrediting organizations for an illegitimate credential, and they can’t get jobs in doctoral positions. Most institutions get applications for teaching positions and research positions and put them in two stacks: the legitimate degrees and the non-legitimate degrees.

Breazeale might have trying to be funny, but education is no laughing matter. For too long, too many people in this region had no access to good-quality education, either because they were too poor to fund it or because they were shut out because of gender or race. Education is one of the areas that people tend not to joke about in the Pee Dee. They regard education as sacred. When their sons or daughters are able to get degrees, it’s an extraordinary day in the lives of their entire family. That’s too important and too valued to allow somebody like Breazeale to make light of it.

What about those honorary degrees?

Breazeale noted that FMU recently awarded honorary degrees to a state senator and a member of the Florence City Council “for political purposes.”

Wrong. People are recognized for the contributions they make to communities. Sen. Vincent Sheheen was recognized by FMU because he is a champion for many issues, such as K-12 education and special education. Teresa Myers Ervin not only is a member of a city council that has played an enormous role in revitalizing downtown Florence, but she had devoted her life to the profession of nursing.

Are honorary degrees useful as a political support and/or funding mechanism? Sure, but seldom does that come before the fact.

Now about letters to the editor in general. …

Our lapse in judgment has made us think. It’s time for us to reset our Opinion page. It’s time to raise the standards of the letters that we publish.

We will discuss a better process. We are talking about extra eyes on letters and citizen columns so we can reduce our lapses in judgment.

We’re all for a lively exchange of well-expressed opinions, whether we agree with them or not, but we need to raise the bar far above the almost-anything-goes level that it has become. Too many letters have been loose with facts and heavy with innuendo. Some letters have been just plain nasty. We need to screen and discard these.

Our point: Make your point(s), stick to the facts and leave it at that. There’s no need to be inflammatory.

In short: Don’t be a jerk.

Thumbs up, thumbs down is a regular feature of the Morning News and appears each Saturday on our Opinion page. We seek nominations for both good and bad deeds from our readers. Send nominations to us by email at letters@florencenews.com. Be sure use the word “thumb” in the subject and include a contact number. Thumbs can also be mailed to us c/o The Morning News, 310 S. Dargan St., Florence, S.C., 29506.

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