In academia, cheating is considered one of the most serious forms of misconduct — usually.
Last week, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that Doug Lynch, a former Graduate School of Education administrator, was continuing to lie about his credentials on his LinkedIn profile and CorpU bio (he has since changed his LinkedIn).
Despite this, Lynch found employment at the University of Southern California, as well as CorpU and ConnectEDU, education innovation companies. He also remains enrolled in Columbia University, attempting to get the doctorate he claimed was on his resume.
We take issue with the ethics behind his recent employment and continued enrollment.
Perhaps we would be more forgiving if Lynch did not continue to lie about his credentials, but his persistence demonstrates to us that either he does not understand the gravity of his actions or he does not care.
We understand Lynch is only a senior fellow at USC and does not carry the same responsibilities a full-time faculty member would. We also understand Lynch has an impressive and real record on education innovation.
However, the fact that USC is willing to hire Lynch less than a year after the controversy shows a willingness to overlook Lynch’s actions. While this does not amount to condoning what Lynch has done, we feel it is akin to saying it’s acceptable. This disregard for ethical standards represents an inherent breakdown in the system.
Similarly, at Columbia Teachers College, where Lynch is a student, we think his past and present actions should make Columbia seriously consider whether it should permit him to continue on as a student there — it is only fair to other students whom Columbia holds to high ethical standards.
Lastly, we would be remiss to exclude Penn from scrutiny. While Lynch did not claim to have a doctoral degree on his resume when he was first hired here, he did when he transferred to a position that allowed him oversight of doctoral students, suggesting that Penn should have more internal oversight of its employees.
Later during his tenure at Penn, Lynch did not resign until several media outlets reported on his record, despite the fact that the school was informed that he did not hold a Ph.D. more than a month prior to the story breaking.
It surprises us, to say the least, that no higher-level administrator found that his transgressions warranted dismissal until the information was made public. In cases like these, the media can serve as a last line of defense, but it should not be the sole watchdog.
We are not arguing that Lynch should be excluded from the education sector forever. However, it seems his employment has barely been hindered — even his departure from Penn was more of a result of news coverage surrounding the University than his actions.
Given the many years Lynch worked at a position obtainable only with credentials he did not have, he may have even benefited from his lie. It does not seem like the punishment fits the crime.
Theoretically, academia is a field marked by high ethical standards. As undergraduates, we have to sign an honor statement before many exams and plagiarism can blacklist us at most universities.
The notion that multiple esteemed universities are willing to associate with someone who lied about and continues to lie about his record sends a hypocritical message to the rest of academia. Apparently, academia doesn’t shun everyone who violates its rules. Instead, it arbitrarily applies different rules for different people.
And if that’s the case, how much weight does signing the honor code truly hold for all other students and faculty?