Dr. John Roberts of Birmingham, Ala., became the university’s first doctorate in philosophy recipient during Saturday’s summer graduation ceremony.
The university has offered a doctorate in education and a doctorate in psychology over the past few years.
Roberts, 46, said it is a “distinct honor” to be the first of what the university hopes will be many Ph.D. graduates.
“The university has maintained a tradition for many years and has wanted a doctoral program in this field for a long time,” the therapist with a private practice in Birmingham said.
UWG President Dr. Beheruz Sethna called the process for attaining a Ph.D. program “extremely complicated and political.”
“There have been a lot of academic and political machinations to get where we are today,” he said.
The college was awarded the Psy.D. program in 2007 after petitioning for a Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. program was eventually realized after the college got permission to redo the Psy.D. program.
“Students converted their credits and they were happy to do that because the Ph.D. is a higher degree,” Sethna said. “We just revamped the Psy.D. program to a Ph.D. program. That was our original intention anyway.”
The four research universities in the University System of Georgia (University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Georgia Health Sciences University) were the only systems allowed to award Ph.D. diplomas until a few years ago.
“A few years ago, the robust tier institutions were offered doctoral granting and all degrees except Ph.D.,” Sethna said. “Those schools were Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, Valdosta State and UWG.”
Sethna said the universities were then asked to “make a case” for getting a doctoral in philosophy program.
“The other research universities were loath to give up their absolute control over the Ph.D.,” he said. “We had to get permission to even approach the four universities to make our case. We had to ask their blessing, basically.”
After getting other schools’ blessing, UWG did internal and external reviews, which included securing letters of recommendation from faculty members at prestigious universities like Harvard University.
Sethna said of the four robust tier institutions, UWG was the third to get official permission.
“We were third to get permission and the first to graduate,” he said. “We were two years ahead because of our already established Psy.D. program.”
That makes Roberts, Sethna said, the first Ph.D. graduate in Georgia outside the four research universities.
“That’s really an amazing accomplishment,” Sethna said. “Much applause goes to our students and faculty members, particularly to Dr. Kareen Malone, the director of the program.”
Roberts attained his undergraduate degree at Virginia Military Institute, and went on to get a law degree and master’s degrees in both English and art before starting in on the Ph.D.
The program Roberts graduated from is focused on the study of consciousness and society and aims to educate future graduates to make original contributions to theory and knowledge.
“It’s a very philosophy oriented program that focuses on what it means to be human,” Roberts said.