Dongguk sues Yale for $50M

The Korean university to which Yale accidentally verified the authenticity of a fabricated doctorate has filed a suit against the University, seeking at least $50 million in damages for harm to its reputation, a Korean newspaper reported on its Web site Tuesday.

Officials at Dongguk University were apparently unsatisfied by Yale’s apology this winter for its part in what has become known in the Korean press as “Shin-gate,” an international scandal in which former Dongguk art history professor Shin Jeong-ah 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 she fabricated 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 questions arose last summer regarding the authenticity of Shin’s credentials, Yale first denied having verified that Shin graduated from Yale. In December, Yale officials realized their mistake and apologized for the first time.

But that was apparently not enough to placate Oh Young-kyo, the president of Dongguk University. In an interview with the Korea Times last month, Oh said officials at his university would take legal action against Yale regarding the situation.

This week, they followed through on Oh’s threat: The university filed a civil lawsuit in Connecticut District Court on Monday, said Dongguk’s attorney, Robert Weiner of the U.S. firm McDermott Will & Emery, according to the Korean newspaper the Chosun Ilbo.

Weiner did not return a phone message left at his New York office late Tuesday.

In the suit, Dongguk claims that Yale damaged the Korean university’s reputation with its initial verification of Shin’s doctorate degree, according to the newspaper report. Despite Yale’s subsequent admission of its mistake, Weiner said Dongguk University’s reputation was damaged to the extent that it could not be repaired simply by an apology.

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

University President Richard Levin declined to comment Tuesday night, and a Yale spokesperson could not be reached for comment. But last month, the University said it thought Oh’s threat was excessive.

“Legal action by Dongguk University against Yale would be regrettable,” Yale Spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in an e-mail message. “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 lawsuit, meanwhile, is the latest episode in what has become a major scandal in Korea — and a major source of discomfort for officials at Yale.

The Shin-gate scandal boiled over in the summer, and Shin is now on trial for forgery. Still, even as allegations mounted against her, the former professor denied having fabricated her degree, pointing to a 2005 facsimile from Yale to Dongguk University that verified the authenticity of the letter documenting her Yale degree.

Yale officials quickly declared that the fax transmission, bearing the signature of Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister, had been fabricated — until December, when Yale officials realized that the fax transmission had actually been sent, but only by what they later called an administrative error, and one for which Levin strenuously apologized.

“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 to Dongguk officials this winter, 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.”

In the meantime, the University has changed its procedures for authenticating alumni degrees. Officials will no longer confirm whether a person holds a Yale degree based on any external papers they are asked to authenticate and will rather rely on their own records when making such an assessment, officials said.


  • Yale '71 Alum

    In the many years I've done business with companies in Korea, I've learned that this kind of behavior is typical. An apology for an honest mistake is almost never enough; it takes a lot more than that to knock the chip off the offended party's shoulder. Too bad President Oh can't see that his ungracious conduct will cause much more damage to Dongguk's reputation than anything Yale accidentally did. As for his statement that "We can make good our friendship with Yale after we settle our losses due to them," one can only hope that, once this suit is resolved, he'll discover that nobody in New Haven has time to return his calls.

  • confused

    how is damaging the reputation of a third rate school worth $50M?

  • Anonymous

    Korean students currently constitute a large block of full-tuition payers.

  • Hieronymus

    To #3: easily replaced; entirely fungible.

  • ashamed korean

    #3, not anymore.

    Good luck battling the school with the best law school in the world. Besides only the students from the best korean universities are considered for admission here. This university is not one of them. They are the backup school in korea. Kind of like how stanfurd is the backup school to Yale, Princeton, and MIT. Shameful.

  • Recent Yale Alum

    Whether or not there is a cause of action here, Yale shouldn't have told the Korean university that this imposter was a legitimate graduate.

  • Proud Korean

    Hey, every school except Harvard is the backup for SOMEBODY; dissing one Korean University may irritate others.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, where is Gao Zhisheng?

  • Anonymous

    I think it is disappointing that anyone would make a generalization about an entire race based upon one incident, or, in some cases, a select few. Like all other races, Koreans encompass a full spectrum of personalities, and to say that most Koreans refuse to accept apologizies over relatively petty matters is simply false. Obviously the university's response is unacceptable, but to judge the entire population is unacceptable as well.

  • anon Korean

    This is easily one of the worst examples of "crisis management" I have ever seen. If Dongwhatever U. had its reputation damaged by Yale to the tune of $50M, the news of this lawsuit will damage its reputation by an order of magnitude more. Eventually, this will be a textbook case study of "how not to improve your reputation".

  • justice

    Yale is absolutely wrong. Stop pointing finger to others. It doesn't matter if the Korean U is a third rate or anything. The fax confirmation by 'official from Yale' is the origin of all the problems this Korean school faces.

    Imagine if it's not the Korean U. but another American U or Business, would they do the same? I am sure they would.

    So, let's face in the court and don't forget to bring the best lawyers from Yale Law School, Okay?

  • jstele

    I think this lawsuit is excessive, but Yale should offer something more than an apology. Yale made the mistake of not checking their own records before sending the verification, so they messed up.

    Now, in this case, the damage was a loss of reputation. The party they should be suing primarily is the fake degree holder. But Yale has a lot of responsibility in this case because without its validation, the student would not have gotten away with it. Now, the degree was in art history. As an art historian, one may be in charge of verifying the value of works of art. Imagine if you were the owner of a painting worth millions, but this individual was not able to determine that. You sell your piece for what it is valued at, which is millions less than what it's worth. Degrees do count for something, so let's be realistic here.

    A loss of reputation is damaging to a university. Why do people want to go to the name schools? A big part of the reason is prestige. They know that they will get more respected and sought after by employees if they graduate from name schools. I know some top firms will only hire graduates from places like Harvard, Yale, etc. If Yale lost its prestige, then it would lose revenue in terms of student fees. So let's get real now.

    Even for less prestigious schools, this is an issue. Schools need all the prestige they can get to attract the most and best students.

  • jstele

    I sincerely doubt that Yale University '71 Alum (Poster #1) is truly a Yale graduate. I think he is a more of an embittered person who is angry at Korea. Perhaps an angry English teacher? Anyways, he needs to get over it. Korea is Korea, different culture. And he needs to stop with the generalizations, jeez. If he truly finds Koreans to have a chip on their shoulder, why would he do business with them for years? There are so many different opportunities out there. His post is all b.s. If he were a true businessman, he would find other opportunities. The world is not that small.

  • Y03

    To number 8: while the generalizations might go too far, please try to understand that characterizing a culture is different from characterizing a race. Culture is transmitted through learning, racial characteristics through genes. Maybe people initially have control over neither, but as they become independent adults, they can choose to reject the less savory aspects of their culture. Don't be so quick to call racism.

  • jstele

    If you think about it, Dongguk does have a right to sue Yale as well as Shin. Because they really are basing their hiring on degrees. Shin could not have verified her own degree. The only entity that could do so is Yale. Even if they talked to people who went there, they have to make absolutely sure that she got a degree from Yale. The only way they can do that that is time effective and reliable (but not in this case) is through an enrollment verification from Yale. So yeah, Yale deserves to be sued.

  • flummuxt

    When news of this scandal caused by Shin Jeong-ah broke, the Korean government responded not by requiring more careful check of the academic credentials of Koreans, but by requiring every foreign English teacher to go to their alma mater's website, and prove to a school administrator that they had a degree from that website.

    This, of course, is generally impossible.

    In Korea, if something goes wrong, the fault is anyone's but a Korean's.

  • jstele

    Um, no, poster #15. The government did not ask teachers to verify their degrees through a website. Don't spread lies.

    The government did require a more thorough check of the credentials of foreign teachers. And that is the the reason why some teachers are angry, because they have to go through more hoops. Don't spread b.s. At least have substance to back up your arguments.

  • unbelievable

    Unbelievable, not the article but the comments that are being posted. I am embarssed that there are so many bigots associated with Yale.
    #15 In Korea, if something goes wrong, the fault is anyone's but a Korean's.
    And how can Yale Alum '71 say that about an entire race?

    When the consequences of "an honest mistake" are so enormous (like losing their share of top students in the next year's yield) the offender must take greater responsibility for their mistake. If you accidentally bumps into someone on the streets, an apology is enough. I think the previous commenters are dismissing the seriousness of the situation of this situation. This scandal was so highly publicized in Korea that when anyone mentioned the name Dongguk U, this is the first thing they thought of, even months later. Imagine that happening to Yale. When all the top colleges are vying for the top students such a scandal is detrimental. Therefore Dongguk has every right to sue Yale. Of course, above all DU as well as Koreans blame foremost Ms Shin but any reasonable person must admit to the fact that if it had not been for Yale's error (due to most likely carelessness) such a scandal would have never happened. Please, all I ask if for all of you to switch your POV and consider if such a great scandal damaged Yale's reputation as much as it did to DU. Thanks.

  • unbelievable

    This is from a related article, just so people can get a glimpse into how serious this scandal is for DU:

    At that, officials at Dongguk — whose president and board of trustees had all been called upon to resign in the wake of the scandal — were outraged, the lawsuit makes clear.

    “Your inaccurate information,” a Dongguk official is quoted writing to Yale in December, “has ruined our one hundred year-long built reputation.” -

  • umm

    Why isnt it incumbent on Dongguk to verify the degrees of people they are hiring for their name-university status degrees in the first place?

    Yale made an administrative mistake in verifying the degree to Shin by fax, but if I were one of the Korean U's people I would have checked personally with Yale, not relied on the rather suspect professor's documentation.

    Anyway, a 50M$ lawsuit only makes Dongguk look worse. Petty and vindictive about a mistake that was theirs to begin with!

  • respnse to #19

    To "umm":
    I don't think you fully understand what happened. DU did check with Yale to verify Ms. Shin's degrees. They DID NOT rely on her documentation alone. DU checked with Yale at least twice and both times they verified.

  • Dong Guk?

    Well… Dong Guk isn't that much of a good school in Korea anyways. they did not sue Yale for the sake of it's reputation. Then for what? Money. Dong Guk will never lose an opportunity to get 50mil. If you know about this school, then you will definitly agree with me.

  • well..

    I think most of people here don't know how big this scandal was in Korea. It's not only about Dongguk U. hire Shin by Yale's mistake. When the newspapers in Korea wrote about Shin's degree, Dongguk U. asked Yale to check. Then Yale said they didn't send a fax related to Shin's degree. And long long time later, Yale find out that they send a fax by mistake. But before Yale find out thier mistake, the newspapers and TV news were blame Dongguk U. and they suspected that Someone big in the government help Shin to get the job in Dongguk U by abuse his power. It became a politic and sex scandal, and People started to think Dongguk U. as very corrupt and dishonest university. It did ruin dongguk's reputation.

  • Chewy

    Yale screwed up. They admitted it! End of story.

    Will the apology suffice? Probably not. Some of you have to put this in context to fathom what's happened: in Korea, this is huge news, and the fallout has really hurt DU in a number of ways. Now, the courts will decide to what extent their reputation has been damaged.