State Senate Republican candidate Greg Vital said he's not a college graduate despite saying the opposite in a public forum.
"That was a Freudian slip," Vital said Tuesday. "It was a mistake."
Vital is campaigning for the District 10 seat now held by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who's running for Chattanooga mayor.
On May 31, Vital spoke at a candidate forum sponsored by the Hamilton County Young Republicans. During his opening remarks, Vital said he "finished up" college in 1979 and "graduated with only $900 on my student loan."
Vital's campaign website says he "attended" Southern Adventist University and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Officials at both schools confirmed Vital's enrollment, but said he never graduated.
"It slipped," Vital said in a phone interview. "What I meant was I finished college whenever I finished and I still owed $900. That was the point."
Vital said he has "never embellished" his education in the past, but an online biography appears to discredit that claim.
A website for the Bragg Point condominiums in Missionary Ridge lists Vital as the residential project's co-developer and includes a detailed professional biography that says: "Vital holds an undergraduate degree in business administration from Southern Adventist University."
Vital confirmed the authenticity of the Bragg Point website, but said "a third party from Nashville" developed it three years ago. He said he didn't know whether he or someone else provided the information about his educational history.
"I can hardly tell you what I ate for breakfast yesterday," he said. "I don't know who supplied it. I'd have to assume it was supplied by somebody in our organization."
On Tuesday evening the Bragg Point website's content had been removed and replaced with the message "This website is not viewable, at this time."
President and CEO of Independent Healthcare Properties, which develops assisted-living facilities, Vital pointed out that he "told the truth" in a June 10 story in the Cleveland Daily Banner that quoted him as saying he fell a few credits short of graduating college.
"When asked about it specifically, several weeks ago, I didn't hesitate," he said. "I just flat-out told the truth and that's what I've always done."
Blush Magazine, a Chattanooga magazine aimed at women, published a 2011 profile of Vital in which he's interviewed and identified as a "graduate of Southern Adventist University." Vital said he couldn't remember whether he supplied that information.
Nancy Henderson, the author of the Blush piece, declined to comment.
The confusion doesn't stop with Vital. Southern Adventist University claims Vital as an alumnus, but that's because of the school's own definition of the word, according to Evonne Crook, director of alumni relations.
"Our definition of 'alum' is anybody with anything over one full semester," she said. "We kind of do that rather loosely."
Crook said Vital attended Southern Adventist from 1974 to 1978 without graduating. But a photograph of Vital on Southern's website labels him "Greg Vital '78."
The Chattanooga Times Free Press used that information, Vital's May 31 remarks and the Bragg Point biography for a Sunday story that said Vital earned a degree from Southern.
"The apostrophe with the date is confusing," said Claude O. Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association. "They could have clarified that by saying 'attended' in 1978 instead of giving the impression that the individual had actually graduated."
The phrases "Greg Vital, Class of 1978" and "Greg Vital, Class of '78" also appear on Southern's website.
Berke decided against re-election after redistricting made District 10 more Republican-friendly. Vital is battling Chattanooga financial consultant Todd Gardenhire for the GOP nomination.
Democrats Quenston Coleman, Andraé McGary and David Testerman also are in the race.
Primaries are Aug. 2.