Illustration by James Callahan
Shonda Harris-Muhammed is not a doctor, but she played one on the Richmond School Board. From the time she ran for the board's 6th District seat until late April, Harris-Muhammed referred to herself and was referred to on placards and websites by the distinguished moniker of Doctor. As you well know by now, that title was stricken from all pylons and obelisks (I've seen The Ten Commandments way too many times) because Walden University twice asserted that Harris-Muhammed has not earned a doctoral degree there.
Not to worry, Shonda. That lofty title is yours to use freely once again, as we at Richmond Mag U have decided to confer upon you the distinguished degree of Doctor of Chutzpah.
A Doctor of Chutzpah may not have the academic standing of a Ph.D. or Ed.D. or whichever D. you were claiming to have, but it does have the all-important word "doctor" in it, and that's what's really important, right?
First off, it sure does take a lot of chutzpah, gumption, gall, what-have-you to claim a degree you haven't earned. But that's the child's play of a mere undergrad compared to someone of your advanced learning on the subject of chutzpah.
When confronted by WTVR-CBS6 reporter Catie Beck, who broke the story, you offered the explanation that you had not yet received the title officially from Walden because of outstanding tuition. Sounded plausible enough, didn't it?
Well, Beck went right back to Walden, which told her that degrees are never withheld because of tuition matters. Paper diplomas, maybe, but not degrees.
So the matter came up before the School Board, and here was your chance to show the world the master of moxie that you are! Through a teary voice but without actual tears, you tore into those who would snoop into your personal business — your personal business! "For anyone to feel that they need to dig in to my personal business, personal matters, demonstrates an act and a level of bullying," you boldly charged.
Whoa. Who saw that coming? Of course, what you call bullying, the rest of us just call "checking references," but that's what makes your brazenness all the more impressive.
You thought that would put it to rest, but your colleagues on the board didn't buy it, and they gave you exactly one week to produce proof of your doctorate, or they would remove the title from any RPS literature and nameplates.
If any normal schmuck had been caught in this tangled web, he or she or I probably would have slunk into that next board meeting, red-faced, offering the most tepid explanation for our actions ("I got ahead of myself" might have worked), coupled with a vigorous apology ("I regret deeply any harm I may have caused, and I humbly ask forgiveness so that we can move forward with our work on behalf of the precious students in our beloved city ..."). Or something.
Instead, we got defiance. And third-person references, the last refuge of the cornered rat. "No question if Shonda Harris-Muhammed has completed the work or not. ... Was everyone else's credentials checked? Or was it just Shonda Harris-Muhammed's?"
When board chairman Jeffrey Bourne dared to point out that any RPS employee in the same position would likely be disciplined, you went off. "Please — please! — make sure you don't turn this into a disciplinary action because it is not." In your mind, Shonda, you hold all the cards, even when you're sitting there with a flaming bag of poop. And if that ain't the definition of chutzpah, I don't know what is.
Perhaps the coup de grâce of cojones was your reference to the Almighty's role in all this. Your position, ordained by God himself, was in no jeopardy whatsoever over this matter. Stabbing your finger into the air for emphasis, you told the board that "under no circumstances will God allow anyone — anyone! — to destroy me without His permission."
Ya got that, Catie Beck?
So please, Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed, accept this Doctor of Chutzpah degree. And this is no Mickey Mouse honorary degree like Billy Joel and Kermit the Frog have. No, for this one, you have clearly completed the coursework.