Regrettable FACTS – From Here to South Korea

(Summary from “Court Favors Yale in Suit Involving Fake Degree,” the New York Times, August 15, 2013)

As an employer, one of the first things you look at in an applicant’s resume and submitted paperwork is the school where he or she graduated. When you see a degree issued and conferred from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Columbia universities, for example, your interest in this candidate will most likely be piqued. Ivy League graduates demand and get your attention very quickly, in the hiring phase.

Imagine the surprise of a prestigious South Korean university when they discovered that one of their professors does not actually hold an Ivy League graduate degree despite claiming to do so:

When Shin Jeong-ah, a rising star in the art world, applied for a job at South Korea’s prestigious Dongguk University, in 2005, one credential stood out above the rest: a Doctorate in Art History from Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut.

In a country where a premium is placed on impressive degrees, so much so that it can even affect marriage proposals, a Yale University degree is about as good as it gets anywhere around the world.

But two years later, after being employed, it was revealed that Ms. Shin had never received a Yale degree, embarrassing Dongguk University officials and setting off a scandal that quickly spread beyond the school to prominent figures across the country.

Ms. Shin would eventually be convicted of falsifying records — including a document she claimed certified her Yale University doctoral degree — along with embezzlement crimes too.

However, Dongguk University officials also felt wronged by Yale, which in 2005 had mistakenly confirmed the authenticity of Ms. Shin’s Yale credentials.

Dongguk University filed a civil suit against Yale, but the courts sided against the Korean university, citing that there was “no malicious intent” in the oversight, by Yale. This one person incident has proven expensive for the Korean school, losing millions that would have been used instead for expansion. More importantly, the administration at Dongguk experienced extreme embarrassment and lost prestige, in front of its clients, the students, the local community, and around the country too.

It's not just high-level professor positions, however, who have been found to falsify documents. Last month in this column, I discussed similar circumstances for Scott Thompson, the Yahoo CEO who stepped down when it was also discovered that he did not hold the computer science degree his resume claimed. These events show that even top executives and other high standing professionals should undergo the same careful employment background screening as lower level employees too. Consistent, precise facts across the entire enterprise really do matter.

Pre-employment background screening is important because applicants must have the necessary educational credentials and skills for the job they're applying. Deception must be discovered, at the initial background screening phase. Moreover, any job that involves access to confidential data, or access to huge budgets, should be given special scrutiny in the aggregate set of background tasks conducted, especially in the early screening phase of the hiring process.  

Because of the need to mitigate every hiring risk, to identify or find falsehoods and any deception, an employer should contact and utilize a reliable employment background screening service, like “The Accu-Facts Company.” Professional and engaged support to weed out false resumes, and other forms of deception from applicants, is prudent for many of the obvious reasons, but workplace safety and mandatory FCRA compliance are equally important too. Avoid the hiring pitfalls that may damage your brand, your business reputation, or your workplace environment, which is the paramount goal of your background screening program. The FACTS in this instance are certainly regrettable to both universities.