Yale: “We Won’t Be Fooled Again.”

December 4, 2009

An Ivy League degree opens doors around the world, as South Korean art professor Shin Jeong-ah knows: her diploma from Yale University helped her land a job at Dongguk University, in South Korea, and a prestigous museum curatorship. The problem was, Professor Jeong-ah was never a student at Yale. Or, perhaps the problem was that Yale said she was.

In September 2005, Dongguk University forwarded materials from Professor Jeong-ah to Yale, asking the Ivy League university to verify that their potential new hire had, in fact, earned a Yale degree. The materials had been faked but Yale bought it, and sent a letter back confirming Jeong-ah’s degree.

Professor Shin Jeong-ah, center.

As news broke, Yale back-tracked: “I’ve seen the fax that supposedly confirms that Shin earned a degree from Yale, and it bears no resemblance to the letter that [the university] sends when actually confirming someone’s degree,” Yale’s Director of Public Affairs wrote in an e-mail to the Yale Daily News.

Yet, quickly thereafter, that paper reported “the University reviewed its documents and determined it had indeed sent the fax in question.”

An official statement explains: “Responding quickly to what appeared to be a routine request, Yale’s staff mistakenly relied on the letterhead and signature on the purported May 2005 letter.”

In addition to her faked Yale degree, Jeong-ah also provided Dongguk University with her Ph.D. dissertation, “Guillaume Apollinaire: Catalyst for Primativism, for Picabia and Duchamp.” That dissertation was later revealed to have been submitted to the University of Virginia in 1981 by Ekaterini Samaltanou-Tsiakma.

After landing a museum curatorship with her fraudulent credentials, Jeong-ah embezzled nearly $400,000 from the institution, posed for nude photographs, and commenced an affair with a top aide to the President of South Korea. She staunchly maintains her Yale diploma, which is missing the signature of the President of that school, is authentic.

Yale has vowed to tighten up operations.