Yale to be sued over Shin case

The Korean university to which Yale accidentally verified the authenticity of a fabricated doctorate will sue Yale, the school’s president said last week, according to a report published in The Korea Times.

University President Richard Levin recently sent a letter of apology to Dongguk University, where Shin Jeong-ah, a former art history professor at the school, landed her prestigious job in part because of what she presented as a doctorate degree in art history from Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Shin never attended Yale, but forged a letter from the school documenting her degree and when asked by Dongguk University officials to confirm the authenticity of that letter in 2005, Yale officials mistakenly did so.

Then, when allegations regarding Shin’s forged credentials arose over the summer, Yale initially denied having confirmed that Shin graduated from Yale. In December, the University realized its mistake and apologized for the first time.

The two apologies were apparently not enough for Oh Young-kyo, the president of Dongguk University. In an interview with the Korea Times last week, Oh said his university would take legal action against Yale regarding the situation.

“We can make good our friendship with Yale after we settle our losses due to them,” Oh said.

That comment was not welcome news to Yale officials.

“Legal action by Dongguk University against Yale would be regrettable,” Yale spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in an e-mail on Friday. “We have apologized for the error and explained how we believe it occurred. The wrongdoer, of course, is Jeong Ah Shin, and not Yale.”

The scandal — popularly known as “Shin-gate” in South Korea — continues to simmer in that country, where it was one of the top news stories of the year in 2007. The allegations against Shin last summer launched a wave of resume-checking across Korea, which revealed that several other academics and prominent citizens had also forged credentials.

Even as evidence built up against her, Shin denied having forged her degree, referring reporters to a 2005 facsimile, sent from an official at the Graduate School to her employer, which verified the authenticity of her degree.

Yale officials quickly asserted that the fax transmission, bearing the signature of Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister, had been faked — until December, when University officials realized that the fax had actually been sent, but only by mistake.

In the wake of the scandal — and Yale’s denial that it ever confirmed Shin’s status as a Yale graduate — Dongguk University was heavily criticized in the Korean media for not performing due diligence on its new hires.

When Yale admitted it was wrong, after all, Dongguk University quickly threatened to sue Yale for libel, while Korean prosecutors asked U.S. law enforcement officials to investigate Yale’s involvement in Shin-gate.

In his letter — which Conroy confirmed Levin did send — the president tried to mend fences with the Korean university.

“I am writing to convey to you my deep personal regret for the administrative errors that led Yale University mistakenly to confirm to Dongguk University (in 2005) that Ms. Shin Jeong-ah had been awarded a Yale Ph.D.,” Levin wrote, according to the report in The Korea Times.

“I am dismayed that Yale’s errors may have contributed to delays in detecting Ms. Shin’s fraud,” Levin continued. “I sincerely hope that we may soon put this unfortunate incident behind us, and begin to strengthen the ties between Dongguk University and Yale. Please accept my sincere apology.”

Last month, Yale officials disclosed that the University has now changed its procedures for verifying the authenticity of degrees. The University will no longer confirm whether a person holds a Yale degree based on any external documents they are asked to authenticate, officials said. Instead, Yale administrators will rely on their own records to determine whether a person has actually graduated from the University.

Shin, meanwhile, has been under arrest since October for her role in the scandal. Yale has steadfastly maintained that, administrative errors notwithstanding, Shin has never, ever attended the University.

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