Kansas technology chief resigns over questions about degree

The administrator recently hired by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to oversee computer projects and systems for most of state government resigned Tuesday, a day after questions arose about his academic degree.

Jim Mann stepped down from his $150,000-a-year job as chief information technology officer for the executive branch. The announcement came hours after Brownback acknowledged that his administration hadn’t thoroughly examined Mann’s entire educational background.

But Brownback also said his staff thoroughly examined Mann’s work history, and that his two decades of experience in the private sector were what mattered.

Mann, 58, was most recently a consultant in St. Augustine, Fla. The governor’s office and Mann’s online resume listed him as holding a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of Devonshire. The institution isn’t in an online database of accredited institutions maintained by the Washington-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

“The questions surrounding my qualifications to perform and deliver in this position have compromised confidence in me and my integrity,” Mann wrote in his brief resignation letter. “As such, I am no longer an asset to your team and your IT mission.”

Brownback’s office said Mann received his degree from the University of Devonshire after studies from 1993 to 1995. While there were references online to the institution having an address in London, a website or phone number couldn’t immediately be located.

Tim Willard, communications director for the accreditation council, said the group includes institutions in its database if they’re accredited by one or more organization recognized by the federal government.

Most foreign schools don’t have U.S. accreditation, he said, and institutions not listed in the database may not have sought it.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board includes the University of Devonshire in an online list of institutions whose degrees are illegal to use in seeking employment, a promotion, a business or trade license or admission to an institution of higher education. The list says the university has “no degree-granting authority from the United Kingdom.”

Also, the Michigan Civil Service Commission does not recognize degrees from the University of Devonshire as satisfying educational requirements for government jobs there, according to a list of unaccredited universities published in January.

“I looked at it when it came in on the resume. I hadn’t heard of the place, but that’s not what we were measuring,” Brownback said. “The people we checked with were all ones in organizations where he had worked.”

The Topeka Capital-Journal first raised questions about Mann’s degree hours after Brownback announced Mann’s hiring. The governor’s office said Mann also attended the University of Maryland from 1972 to 1974.

“Please accept my sincerest apology, and I wish you and all Kansans nothing but the best as you strive to bring excellence to Kansas’s information technology systems,” Mann wrote. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag declined to comment after the office announced Mann’s resignation.

But earlier, Brownback noted that when he was the state’s agriculture secretary from 1986 to 1993, his agency’s information technology chief was a former meat cutter, self-taught in IT, who “did a great job with it.”

“A lot of people in the IT field don’t have much as far as degrees,” said Brownback, who holds a bachelor of agricultural economics from Kansas State University and a law degree from the University of Kansas.

“I’ve got two degrees, and I sure wouldn’t put me in charge of IT.”

Mann started a consulting business in Florida after leaving the chief information technology officer’s job at Service Brands International, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based services franchising company, in 2010. He resigned the same year he joined the company; he and the company said they had different philosophies about how to handle information technology.

Before that, Mann owned and ran a marketing, direct-mail, design and communications business, and he is a former vice president of Havi Foodservice Worldwide, a supplier of distribution and other services to companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks Coffee Co. He was credited with developing supply chain applications for both.

“He’s got a 20-year work experience record, so we went thoroughly through that, because that’s what we wanted to know: How did he perform in these large, complex organizations?” Brownback said. “He did very well.”