Doug Lynch, a former Graduate School of Education vice dean who resigned in April 2012 after falsifying a doctoral degree, is continuing to misrepresent his credentials.
As of press time, Lynch’s biography on the website of CorpU — an education firm at which he is currently employed — stated that he has already earned his doctoral degree in philosophy, economics and education from Columbia University’s Teachers College.
The Daily Pennsylvanian, however, confirmed with the Office of the Registrar at Columbia that Lynch is still enrolled in the school’s doctoral program, having not yet received the degree.
As of earlier last week, Lynch — who left his post as GSE vice dean less than 24 hours after reports of his falsified credentials began to surface — was also claiming on his personal LinkedIn page to have received his Ph.D. at the end of 2012. He changed his degree status to say “expected in 2013” shortly after the DP reached out for comment.
Lynch did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On top of concerns over his current misrepresentation, many have expressed surprise that Lynch has found re-employment so soon after his departure from Penn.
In addition to a position as the chief academic officer at CorpU, Lynch now serves as a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is also a senior adviser at ConnectEDU, another education firm.
Lynch began each of the positions relatively recently.
“Doug’s expertise in building partnerships and support will be a significant addition to Rossier’s efforts in education reform,” USC said in a brief statement, declining to comment further.
CorpU also declined to comment, and ConnectEDU did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“It’s disturbing that a breach of ethics of that kind is seemingly being ignored, especially by reputable places like USC,” said Mitchell Langbert, a Brooklyn College professor who has studied and written about ethics in higher education. “It’s probably characteristic of a trend in our society where ethics is continuing to go by the wayside, and that’s unfortunate.”
An ethical hire?
Over the course of its reporting, the DP reached out to more than 30 current and former GSE faculty members. The vast majority declined to comment, while some spoke under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
“I think it speaks to the heart of where we are in this country with the notion of academic integrity, and it’s disheartening that any institution would employ someone who not only lied about his credentials in an academic setting, but is apparently continuing to lie,” one GSE faculty member said.
Although Lynch had not claimed to have his doctoral degree when he was first hired at Penn in 2004, the faculty member said it was “ridiculous” that the University did not realize the misrepresentation sooner.
Among other responsibilities at Penn, Lynch had served for a time as the academic director of a joint doctoral program between GSE and the Wharton School.
In order to teach doctoral students at GSE and many peer institutions, faculty members are required to have their Ph.D. At the time he taught doctoral students, however, Lynch had not even received his master’s degree.
Before he abruptly left Penn in April, Lynch claimed that he had earned his master of philosophy, economics and education from Columbia in 2005. The Columbia Registrar’s Office confirmed again, however, that Lynch did not receive his master’s until February 2010.
“In the broader context, higher education has benefitted from a high level of trust from the public — that what we’re doing and saying is honest, that the degrees we receive really do matter,” said another GSE faculty member, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity. “This is an example of something that causes the public not to trust what we’re doing.”
A broader trend?
While Lynch’s situation drew much attention, it hardly marked the first time that a high-ranking university employee falsified a set of academic credentials.
In 2007, then-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones resigned after it was brought to light that she did not have degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Albany Medical College, as she had claimed.
More recently, former Yale University football coach Tom Williams resigned in December 2011 amid an investigation into whether he lied about having been a Rhodes Scholarship candidate when he was at Stanford University. Williams later acknowledged that he had never applied for the scholarship.
While it is impossible to quantify the breadth of resume deception in higher education today, Candace de Russy, a former member of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York, acknowledged that the problem is not uncommon. She believes that the governing bodies at individual institutions need to do a better job of being vigilant about false degree claims.
In Lynch’s case, the first faculty member interviewed called him “absolutely pathological if he continues to brazenly lie, especially if he’s in highly-ranked positions where this information is publicly disclosed and easily verifiable.”
“While it’s highly discouraging, I can’t say that it’s necessarily all that surprising,” another faculty member said. “You’d think that being under such a limelight would discourage Doug from lying again, but in cases like his, it rarely works out as we might expect.”
De Russy, who has also written about academic integrity issues in higher education, agreed.
“If somebody’s already deceived an employer to that extent, I would have absolutely taken it into account when considering to hire him,” de Russy said. “I think his hiring goes to show that people are rather numb about this kind of thing — ethics is just not considered to be that important to those people.”
When the Lynch story first came out in April, some in the GSE community defended the former vice dean. GSE professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Stanton Wortham told the DP then that Lynch’s false credentials amounted to an “honest mistake.”
Although Wortham supported Lynch’s departure from the University, he said in April that the former vice dean may have simply been delayed in the Ph.D. process because of a number of “administrative hoops” one might encounter when enrolled in a doctoral program.
GSE spokesperson Kat Stein declined to comment on behalf of Wortham and the rest of the GSE administration, including Dean Andrew Porter.
A GSE faculty member called Wortham’s assertions “absurd.”
“You’re telling me that a man who was paid to work with doctoral students didn’t realize that he didn’t have a Ph.D.? That just doesn’t add up,” the faculty member said.
Another faculty member added that, had Lynch’s deception taken place when he was a student at Penn, it would have been grounds for immediate expulsion.
“Maybe it’s not so shocking that some places would hire him again, but it’s very, very shocking to me that Columbia has not expelled him for lying about the degree,” the faculty member said.
Thomas Bailey, who has been advising Lynch in his pursuit of a doctorate at Columbia, declined to comment.
Reverberations at Penn
Back on campus, Lynch’s resignation has had a number of lingering impacts.
According to GSE policy, at least three faculty members who sit on a doctoral dissertation committee must have their Ph.D.s. During his time at Penn, Lynch sat on a number of dissertation committees without having his degree.
The DP found at least one instance since April in which GSE has asked another faculty member to sign off on a dissertation that Lynch had already approved, in order to make the degree official.
“It’s a fundamental responsibility to protect the students from this sort of deception, and that’s the real unfortunate thing here,” de Russy said.
GSE professor Rebecca Maynard added that the Lynch situation has served as a “wake-up call” for her. She said she is now extra careful to check up on applicants’ credentials when making hiring decisions.
Although the school has largely moved on from Lynch’s resignation — the University said in a statement in April that it “considers the matter closed” — the incident has left a deep impact on some.
“This was about something so fundamental and simple and black and white as having a degree,” a faculty member said. “If we can’t hold people to the degrees they claim to have, then our whole business of higher education is out the window …. If we can’t hold people to that, then we’ve lost the game.”