Less than 24 hours after it was made public that Vice Dean of the Graduate School of Education Doug Lynch had made false claims about having a doctoral degree, Lynch resigned from his position at Penn.
Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy confirmed in a brief email statement on April 26 that the University had accepted Lynch’s resignation. He wrote that, with Lynch’s departure becoming official, “the University considers the matter closed.”
On his resume, Lynch had claimed that he received a doctor of philosophy, economics and education from Columbia University in 2007. However, The Daily Pennsylvanian confirmed with the University Registrar’s Office at Columbia that Lynch is still currently enrolled in the doctoral program at Columbia, having received an extension until the end of the spring 2012 semester to complete his studies.
Additionally, despite Lynch’s claims that he received a master’s degree from Columbia in 2005, the school’s Registrar’s Office confirmed that he did not receive a master’s there until 2010.
Lynch, who was hired by the University in 2004, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The discrepancies in Lynch’s degrees were first brought to light in a Philadelphia Inquirer article on April 26.
In an email sent to GSE faculty and staff, GSE Dean Andrew Porter said he has known about Lynch’s situation since March 2. Initially, rather than remove him from his current role, Porter and other University administrators decided to impose a set of unspecified sanctions on Lynch.
When the Inquirer first reached out to GSE spokesperson Kat Stein on April 25, Stein told the newspaper that these sanctions had “resolved [the situation] to our satisfaction.”
Hours later, though, MacCarthy said in a one-line statement that the University had decided to place Lynch on administrative leave pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation.
Porter wrote in the email to faculty and staff that “when it appeared possible that there might be more to be known, Doug was placed on administrative leave to allow time for further investigation.”
GSE’s administration deferred all questions to the Office of University Communications.
“Human Resources and the Provost’s Office were made aware that there was an issue within GSE that it was investigating; however, the precise details surrounding Mr. Lynch’s credentials were not known until this week,” MacCarthy wrote. He declined to comment further, citing the University’s practice not to comment on specific personnel issues.
Regarding the questions that have arisen over Lynch’s degrees, Stein told the Inquirer that Lynch had “mistakenly believed that [his degree] was complete.”
Some, however, have called these claims into question.
“I don’t see that at all likely or believable,” GSE professor Peter Kuriloff said. “It would be impossible at GSE or at the University of Pennsylvania to not know that you didn’t have a doctoral degree, and I would imagine that’s the same at Columbia.”
While the latest version of Lynch’s personal GSE web page — which, as of press time, has been taken down from the internet — makes no reference to any doctoral degrees from Columbia, there are several other Penn websites that do. For example, Lynch’s biography on the Fels Institute of Government’s page, where he served as a senior fellow, refers to him as “Dr.”
“There are often inaccuracies on the website in a number of different areas and we work as hard as we can to rectify them when we find them,” Stein told the Inquirer.
Though GSE professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Stanton Wortham believes the resignation was in the best interest of the University, he defended Lynch, arguing that the vice dean’s claims amounted to an “honest mistake.” Wortham said there are various “administrative hoops” — such as rounds of revision that most Ph.D. candidates go through after defending their dissertation — that can complicate the doctoral application process.
He added that, while Lynch should have known how to better coordinate the administrative side of his degree, “I truly believe that he had done all of the substantive work for [the doctorate].”
Despite this, some have pointed out that Lynch’s misrepresentation may have far-reaching consequences for both GSE and the University as a whole.
A GSE faculty member, who was granted anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said there is a “good deal” of disappointment among the faculty in response to how the school handled the situation.
In particular, the faculty member said the fact that Porter waited more than a month after learning of Lynch’s misrepresentation to “adequately address it” shows that “[Porter’s] version of what academic integrity means seems to differ from a lot of the faculty.”
The publicity surrounding Lynch’s discovery has also prompted some to look at the role Lynch has played on various doctoral dissertation committees at Penn.
Although GSE’s dissertation policy does not necessarily stipulate that a faculty member who sits on a dissertation committee must have a doctoral degree, it does require that at least three committee members have their Ph.D.s.
The DP found at least one instance in which Lynch was one of just three committee members who approved a dissertation.
At Penn, Lynch has also been closely involved with doctoral students on a day-to-day basis, having created the first joint doctoral program in work-based learning with the Wharton School.
He has also worked closely with doctoral students in his role on the steering committee of GSE’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership.
Political Science professor Rogers Smith, who holds a secondary appointment in GSE and has worked with Lynch from time to time over the years, said he had always found Lynch to be a “talented and energetic person trying to contribute to improvements in education.”
Kuriloff agreed that Lynch has made positive contributions to the GSE and Penn communities, but added that “it’s very sad that a good career here has to end because of a failure of judgement on his part.”
“I think he is an exceptionally talented guy who is obviously flawed like most of us,” Kuriloff said. “But most of us don’t make up our degrees, and that’s a fatal flaw.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.