Court Orders Columbia Pacific University to Cease Operating Illegally in California

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
November 5, 2013

In December 1999, the Marin County Superior Court ordered Columbia Pacific University (CPU), of Novato, California, to cease operations within the State [1,2]. On February 21, 2001, the judge denied further appeals and entered a final judgment ordering CPU to:

  • Pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education for violating Sections 17200 et seq. and Sections 17500 et seq. of the California Business and Professions Code
  • Permanently stop operating or offering any educational programs in California.
  • Notify all students enrolled from June 25, 1997 to December 1, 2000 of the injunction and of their right to a refund.
  • Provide refunds to all students within 30 days of their request.
  • Provide a status report to the Court by June 30, 2001.

Failure to comply with the above order in California would constitute contempt of court, which is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment [3]. CPU moved to Montana but closed about a year later.

Background History

CPU, founded in 1978, was a private, nonaccredited correspondence school that offered programs leading to bachelors, masters, and doctorate-level “degrees” in various subjects.

Private postsecondary schools are regulated by the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, which approves schools to operate and ensures that training is relevant and practical. In 1996, after conducting a qualitative review and assessment of CPU’s degree-granting programs, the bureau’s predecessor agency (Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education) denied CPU’s application for licensure. On June 10, 1997, this denial was upheld by an independent administrative law judge who concluded that CPU had: (a) awarded excessive credit for prior experiential learning to many students; (b) failed to employ duly qualified faculty; and (c) failed to meet various requirements for issuing Ph.D. degrees. When CPU continued to operate without legal approval, the California Attorney General sought an injunction (see “Sequence of Events,” below).

The bureau estimated that hundreds of people would be eligible for a refund. In addition, students with CPU degrees granted on or after June 25, 1997, that were used for licensing examination eligibility were advised to contact their licensing authority with questions about the validity of their license. Most licensing boards require that exam-takers have degrees from state approved schools.

The bureau further stated that students who received degrees or credentials from CPU before June 25, 1997 should not be affected because the school had legal authorization to operate until that date. This merely meant that the school was allowed to issue degrees. It did not mean that the school was accredited or that employers should regard the degrees as representing education equivalent to that of accredited schools.

During the 1980s, an official of the California Postsecondary Education Commission confirmed to me that CPU had been authorized to operate but was not accredited [4].


Sequence of Events Leading to the Injunction

  • The initial Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education Reform Act of 1989 went into effect in 1991. Columbia Pacific University was given “grandfather” status as an approved, degree-granting institution.
  • CPU subsequently submitted its first application for approval to the Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, the predecessor agency of the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education.
  • After a comprehensive review and assessment, the council denied CPU’s application on numerous grounds on December 15, 1996. CPU appealed that denial. While the appeal was pending, CPU was legally permitted to continue operating.
  • Following an evidentiary administrative hearing, an independent administrative law judge upheld the council’s denial. A final decision and order of denial was issued by the council on or about June 25, 1997.
  • CPU petitioned the Alameda County Superior Court for a writ of mandamus vacating the council’s order and decision denying CPU approval to operate. CPU also sought a temporary stay of the council’s decision pending the outcome of the writ petition.
  • The court denied CPU’s request for a stay of the council’s decision. Therefore, as of June 25, 1997, CPU has not possessed an approval to operate as a postsecondary institution in the state of California. CPU did not further pursue its writ action at that time, but continued to operate.
  • In late 1997 the council initiated a civil action in Marin County Superior Court to enjoin CPU’s illegal operations.
  • On January 1, 1998, the bureau succeeded to all the rights and powers of the council. The bureau continued to pursue the action against CPU initiated by the council.
  • On February 10, 1998, the bureau’s motion for a preliminary injunction against CPU was denied by the Marin Superior Court on procedural grounds. The bureau appealed that denial.
  • On October 1, 1998, the First Appellate District reversed the trial court’s denial of the bureau’s motion for a preliminary injunction. CPU then petitioned the California Supreme Court for review of the appellate court decision.
  • On December 16, 1998, the California Supreme Court denied CPU’s petition for review. Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration of the bureau’s motion.
  • On January 26, 1999, the bureau’s motion for a preliminary injunction was reconsidered and granted. The case was set for trial in May 1999. CPU appealed that decision. As a result of the Marin County Superior Court’s decision at the trial, that appeal became moot.
  • Following the California Supreme Court’s denial of CPU’s petition for review in the Marin County action, CPU renewed its writ action in Alameda Superior Court.
  • On the date of the trial in the injunction action, CPU served notice that it had filed bankruptcy the previous day. The Marin County Superior Court stayed the action.
  • The bureau sought, and on July 23, 1999, obtained, relief in bankruptcy court from the automatic stay of the injunction action.
  • The injunction action proceeded to trial on December 1 and 2, 1999, at the conclusion of which the judge issued her decision.
  • CPU appealed, but on February 21, 2001, the judge denied the appeal and issued a final order.


Health-Related “Degree” Holders

Well-run correspondence schools, whether accredited or not, can provide courses that are legitimately educational and useful for some types of jobs. However, they lack the depth of full-time college or graduate school programs and cannot prepare anyone to provide competent clinical services to patients. Competence cannot be achieved without a long period of supervised experience in seeing patients. In fact, in ant e-mail to me, CPU co-founder Lester Carr stated:

CPU did not prepare any students for the clinical practice of nutrition. CPU in its entire history never offered internships or clinical practicums associated with a masters or doctoral degree program of any kind which is the established requirement to justify professionally the “clinical practice of nutrition.” [5]

CPU alumni with health-related “degrees” include:

  • Shaffdeen A. Amuwo, “PhD,” is an associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.
  • Charles Bates, founder of Beyond Dieting, who acquired a Ph.D. in epidemiology from CPU in 1987 where his dissertation on environmental triggers and food allergies was supervised by C. Norman Shealy, M.D., founder of the American Holistic Medical Association. Between 1988 and 1993, Dr. Bates served as clinical director of a large outpatient chemical dependency treatment clinic.
  • Jerry R. Bergman, BS, MA, MEd, MPH, PhD (2), one of whose doctorate degrees is a PhD in human biology from CPU. Biographical information describes him as a creationist, licensed clinical counselor, consultant and teacher at several colleges.
  • George Bernato, PhD, who obtained his “PhD” in counseling psychology in 1986, practiced Jungian therapy in Philadelphia, and was a staff psychologist in the city’s Department of Human Services.
  • Paula R. Bickel, PhD, whose activities have included editing VitalCast Newsletter and co-hosting radio talk shows with Joel Wallach, DVM.
  • Frank J. Bracelin, said to have a Ph.D in Health Sciences and listed as a member of the Faculty of Life, Health, and Environmental Sciences at City University of Los Angeles, a school that is not accredited.
  • Richard W. Boerstler, “PhD,” co-author of, Life to Death, Harmonizing the Transition, who practices psychotherapy in Yarmouth, Massachusetts.
  • Nancimarie Bride, RN, PhD, who does counseling Gateway Counseling Associates in Westfield, New Jersey, states that she received her “PhD in Counseling Psychology and Behavioral Science” in 1993 from CPU.
  • Steven A. Brody, MD, PhD, FACOG, FACE, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with excellent medical credentials, has a PhD in health administration obtained from CPU in 2001.
  • Barry Broughton, NMD, BSc, PhD, who practices naturopathy in Olean, New York, has a “PhD in Health and Human Services” from CPU and a naturopathic degree from nonaccredited Southern College of Naturopathic Medicine.
  • Lonny J. Brown, PhD, who “teaches Holistic Health, Stress Management, and Mind-Body Healing at hospitals, businesses and schools throughout the U.S.” obtained an MA in “Holistic Health Sciences/Education” from CPU in 1983 and a PhD in 1985.
  • Stephen Cherniske, who obtained a masters degree in nutrition in 1982. and represents himself as a “renowned health educator” and nutrition consultant. He cofounded the Oasis Wellness Network, a multilevel company that sells “The Ultimate Anti-Aging System” and other supplement products.
  • Annemarie Colbin, PhD, CHES, who founded and operates The Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City, has a master’s degree in “Wholistic Nutrition” from CPU. Her PhD is from Union University, which is accredited but its degree requirements and standards for health-related doctoral degrees are vastly inferior to those of traditional universities.
  • Arthur L. Copes, marketer of a questionable scoliosis treatment system, who describes himself as an “orthotist” with BS and PhD “degrees” in orthotics.
    In 2006, he was arrested for insurance fraud and practicing without a license [6].
  • Catherine J. Frompovitch, Ph.D., who practiced “nutritional consultation” in Richlandtown, Pennsylvania. Her publications described her as “a practicing natural nutritionist who has a Doctor of Science in Diet and Nutrition [and] a Doctor of Naturopathy.” During the mid-1980s, she founded and directed the now-defunct Coalition for Alternative in Nutrition and Healthcare (CANAH), whose primary goal was passage of a Healthcare Rights Amendment” that would forbid Congress from restricting “any individual’s right to choose and to practice the type of healthcare they shall elect for themselves or their children for the prevention or treatment of any disease, injury, illness or ailment of the body or the mind.”
  • John Dovelos, PhD, who practices psychotherapy and counseling in Athens, Greece, received a “BS in Health & Human Services with concentration in Psychology” from CPU in 1988 and a similar MS degree in 1994.
  • Roman Frankel, “PhD,” CCS, NCAC II, CBIS, CEAP, CCGC, who operates New Start Inc., and The Healing Place, Ltd., in Farmington Hills, Michigan, which offer training, treatment, and other services related to addictive disorders.
  • Ron L. Fronk (1945-2003). who obtained a Master’s degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Wholistic Health Science, operated Turning Point Resources, a consulting firm that offered seminars and books that “enhance high level performance and health as well as overall quality of life.”
  • Lucille Gambardella, BSN, MSN, PhD, a professor and chair of the nursing department at Wesley College, obtained her “PhD” in educational leadership/organizational management from CPU.
  • Charles Gant, MD, PhD, NMD,, whose “PhD” from CPU is in psychology, is a graduate of the University of Maryland Medical School whose medical license was suspended after New York State licensing authorities sustained charges that he “practiced the profession with negligence on more than one occasion, practiced his profession fraudulently, engaged in conduct which evidences moral unfitness, filed false reports, received consideration from a third party for patient referrals and failed to maintain accurate records.” [7]
  • John Gray, “PhD,” whose book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” has reportedly sold millions of copies, conducts seminars and sells books and tapes about relationships and personal growth.
  • Michael H. Greene, “PhD,” who acquired PhDs in counseling psychology and music composition in 1984. His Behavioral Systems, Inc. Web site states that for the past 21 years, he has maintained a private psychotherapy practice
    in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area and treated over 17,000 individuals with hypnosis. A letter from CPU’s office of alumni affairs states that Greene enrolled in April 1984 and was awarded his “degrees” four months later.
  • Jeff Haebig, PhD, a “wellness promoter” in Rochester, Minnesota.
  • Grace Halloran, who directs a “visual healing program,” states that she obtained a “PhD” in wholistic health science in 1977. Her recommended program includes nutrition, “eye-health exercises,” “acupressure to the eyes,” “stress free sight.” “total body balancing,” “microcurrent stimulation,” and “color therapy.”
  • Gerti Heider, “PhD,” RN, GAPN, CS, Assistant Professor, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey School of Nursing.
  • Donald Jorgensen, Sr., PhD, whose PhD from CPU is in health services administration. He also has bachelor and master degrees from accredited schools. He co founded the Jorgensen/Books group, a consultation firm in Phoenix, Arizona that serves addiction, behavioral health and employee assistance programs,
  • Abrar, A. Khan, MB, BS. “PhD,” Professor of Histology, University of Sint Eustatius.
  • Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, “PhD,” president of Khalsa Consultants, Inc., of San Diego, California, who offers coaching in yoga, meditation, and related practices.
  • Monte Kline, “PhD,” founder and director of Pacific Health Centers, holds a “PhD in Nutrition & Wholistic Health Sciences.” The Center’s Web site described it as “a nonmedical health practice working with natural healing methods from a Christian perspective. More specifically, we integrate biblical principles of health in body, mind and spirit with computerized Electro-Dermal Testing (EDT) for nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, toxicities and other health factors.” In January 2002, the Oregon Attorney General obtained a stipulated judgment under which Kline, an associate, and the Center had to pay $15,000 in costs, make refunds available, and notify customers that electrodermal testing has not been approved to assess the above-mentioned problems. Kline was also permanently enjoined from representing that he possesses any academic degree unless it is from a school that was accredited or was approved by Oregon’s educational authorities [8].
  • Robert Marshall, PhD, who received a “PhD” from CPU in 1978, is the CEO and founder of Quantum Nutrition Labs of Austin, Texas, a manufacturer of “quantum-state” nutritional products. The company’s Web site states that he been in clinical practice for over 30 years and has one of the largest chronic illness practices in southern California. He also hosts a nationwide talk radio show called Healthline.
  • John A. Rush, PhD, DSc, ND states that he practices “medical anthropology” and that his “specialties involve diet and nutrition, detoxification, cancer therapy, hormonal re-regulation, and aging.” His PhD is from CPU His other two doctoral “degrees” are from Clayton College, another nonaccredited correspondence school.
  • Carol Simontacci, “MS,” who is based in Sanibel, Florida, does business as “WINGS: Weight Success for a Lifetime.” She offers offers “personal nutrition counseling,” has written several books, and has served as chair or cochair of the National Nutritional Foods Association’s education committee from 1994 through 2000.
  • Daniel J. Sonkin, “PhD,” who practices marriage and family therapy in Sausalito, California.
  • Gordon S. Tessler, “PhD,”author of The Genesis Diet, who practices “clinical nutrition” in North Carolina and represents himself as a “nationally recognized consultant in the fields of clinical nutrition and Biblical health.” His Web site states that he charges $300 for a two-hour consultation using the Phazx BodyScan test that “provides an accurate, non-invasive testing procedure using head, wrist, and ankle electrodes to determine functional imbalances in the body.”


  1. California Department of Consumer Affairs. Columbia Pacific University ordered to close permanently. News Release, Jan 13, 2000.
  2. Duryee ML Permanent Injunction. Bureau for Postsecondary and Vocational Education; and, the People of the State of California v. Columbia Pacific University; Columbia Pacific University Bookstore; Richard Lawrence Crews, M.D.; Arthur M. Blum; Dr. Les Carr; et al. Superior Court of the State Of California for the County of Marin. December 30, 1999.
  3. Final order: California Department of Consumer Affairs wins permanent injunction against Columbia Pacific University Press release, California Department of Consumer Affairs, March 12, 2001.
  4. Haldeman WK. Letters to Stephen Barrett, M.D., March 11, 1986 and July 22, 1987
  5. Carr L. E-mail message to Dr. Stephen Barrett, Feb 7, 2005.
  6. Barrett S. “Dr.” Arthur Copes arrested for insurance fraud. Quackwatch, Feb 26, 2006.
  7. Barrett S. License suspension of Charles Gant, M.D. Quackwatch, revised Feb 13, 2004.
  8. Stipulation and judgment. State of Oregon v Shirley Hancuff, Monte Kline, and Pacific Health Center. Circuit Court of the State of Oregon, Case No. CCV0111396, Filed Jan 14, 2002.

This article was revised on November 5, 2013.