During the spring of 2004, while at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified, Deasy managed to earn his Ph.D. in education from the University of Louisville. One semester was all he needed to enroll, complete a research course for nine credits from out of state, and submit and defend his dissertation. Robert Felner was dean at the university’s College of Education and Human Development as well as Deasy’s adviser and the chairman of his dissertation committee. He granted his student a series of waivers. One enabled Deasy to apply 77 credits he’d taken at other schools—including 44 he’d earned studying under Felner back in Rhode Island—toward his degree. Felner had also been a beneficiary of Deasy’s: During the three previous years, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified had paid $375,000 to a research center headed by Felner to conduct surveys of parents, students, and teachers, on the superintendent’s recommendation.
Between the test score victories of summer and his resignation from Prince Georges in early fall, Deasy had been faced with questions about possible improprieties in his own education. The University of Louisville had initiated an investigation into Robert Felner’s financial misdoings as well as into the legitimacy of the doctorate Deasy had been awarded under his supervision. Felner would plead guilty and serve prison time for defrauding the university as well as another higher-learning institution of $2.3 million. But after the eight-month investigation, Deasy’s Ph.D. was upheld. When I ask Deasy about the controversy, he tersely focuses on outcomes. “I have a doctorate, given to me by the university,” he says, “and two additional ones since then—albeit doctors of humane letters, of course. I’m remarkably proud of my work.”"Doctors of humane letters" are honorary degrees.