Shin appeals sentence for forged degree amid media confusion

A Korean court may have already ruled in the matter, but it now appears that the epic saga commonly known as “Shingate” is anything but over.

Shin Jeong-ah, the disgraced Dongguk University art history professor who rode a fake Yale doctorate first to great prominence and then to great shame, has appealed her 18-month prison sentence in connection with the scandal, according to reports in the Korean media. She was sentenced Monday, which seemed to conclude a scandal that spurred a wave of resume-checking in Korea and ultimately brought down scores of others who were found to have faked their credentials, too.

But in her appeal, Shin called the sentence overly harsh, pointing out that while the court did convict her of forgery and embezzlement, it did not find her guilty of forging her Yale degree specifically, but only her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas.

That detail of the sentence — which would seem to be worth mentioning, considering the dispute over her Yale doctorate launched a high-profile controversy and has since spurred a $50 million lawsuit against Yale for accidentally verifying its authenticity — was somehow not included in many prominent English-language news reports of Shin’s conviction and sentencing.

Some stories, in fact, were just flat-out wrong. One from The Associated Press, which was cited by the News earlier this week, bore the headline: “South Korean university professor convicted for fake Yale degree.”

But according to the Yonhap News Agency and the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, a court in Seoul actually dismissed charges against Shin regarding the Yale doctorate because “the method, date and venue of the forgery was not clear,” as the latter news outlet put it.

And that, Shin’s lawyer said, is good enough grounds to fight the sentence.

“Because key allegations, such as one about her Yale degree, were dismissed, she found the prison sentence of a year and a half excessive,” the lawyer, Park Jong-rok, was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo.

Nevertheless, the University is still adamant that Shin never attended Yale and did indeed fabricate her degree — even if the Korean court could not be persuaded of that point.

“Shin has no Yale degree,” University spokesman Tom Conroy said in an e-mail message Thursday. “There is no doubt about that.”

Shin, 36, had managed to ascend to the peaks of Korea’s art world before her forged credentials were uncovered this summer. In 2005, she forged a letter from a dean in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences that documented her degree; when asked at the time by Dongguk officials to confirm the authenticity of that letter, a University official mistakenly did so.

But Shin’s perfect life unraveled last summer when a Dongguk official raised concerns about the veracity of her degree, which she had forged two years earlier. When first presented with questions about Shin, Yale officials denied having verified that Shin had graduated from the University and said she was entirely a fraud.

Late in 2007, however, the University acknowledged it had indeed verified that Shin had received a Yale degree — though only by a mistake in the rush of business — and offered its sincerest regrets to Dongguk.

That was not good enough for the Korean university, which last week slapped Yale with a $50 million lawsuit. In the suit, which drew headlines around the world, Dongguk claimed it was “publicly humiliated and deeply shamed in the eyes of the Korean population” because of Yale’s mistake in confirming Shin’s degree.

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