Forger Shin releases memoir

Shin Jeong-ah, the Korean art history professor convicted of forging a Yale doctorate degree in 2007, has published a memoir detailing the experiences that led to her conviction.

Shin was a professor and chief curator at the Sungkok Art Museum until 2007, when her Yale degree was revealed to be fraudulent and she was caught embezzling from the museum. As Shin’s tell-all book, “4001,” is released this week, a 2008 lawsuit by Dongguk that accuses Yale of negligence for mistakenly verifying Shin’s graduate degree is nearing the end of a preliminary phase, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Wednesday in an e-mail to the News.

“The parties have nearly finished the pretrial exchange of information,” Conroy said. “But trial is still many months away.”

Lawyers from McDermott Will & Emery first filed a $50 million suit against Yale on Dongguk’s behalf in March 2008, claiming that in mistakenly verifying Shin’s graduate degree, the University damaged Dongguk’s reputation.

In October 2009, Dongguk’s lawyers bolstered the suit, claiming that Yale acted in “reckless disregard” with its negligence and by delaying the public announcement of its mistake. The suit also claims that internal Yale e-mails show the University officials did not take the matter seriously.

Throughout the legal proceedings leading up to the trial, Yale officials have claimed that their confusion over Shin’s false degree was an “innocent mistake.”

Lawyers representing Dongguk from the firm’s New York branch could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Though Dongguk and Yale’s trial may still be far off, the Korean newspaper Chosun reported that Shin’s memoir — a collection of diaries Shin kept over the past four years, including during her 18-month prison sentence from 2007 to 2009 — has already sparked controversy just one day after its Tuesday release.

Shin claims in the memoir that former Korean Prime Minister and president of Seoul National University Chung Un-chan romantically pursed her while she was under consideration for a position at Seoul National University’s art gallery. According to the newspaper, Shin says that Chung was unethical and “wanted to fall in love” with her.

Chung dismissed these claims in interviews with several Korean newspapers published Tuesday.

Before Shin revealed her personal involvement with Chung, and before her embezzlement was discovered, Shin falsified a letter from Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister and gave it to Dongguk as proof of her Yale degree.

Between 2005 and 2007, Yale and Dongguk officials exchanged letters and emails multiple times, beginning with a request from Dongguk administrators in 2005 for Yale officials to verify the forged letter. When contacted by Dongguk, Schirmeister mistakenly verified the letter and its signature as her own, but the University did not publicly admit its error until December 2007.

University President Richard Levin apologized to Dongguk for the mistake, but that did not stop the university from filing suit. In 2008, Yale changed the process for verifying its degrees, requiring use of internal records rather than external documents.

The title of Shin’s memoir, “4001,” refers to Shin’s identification number while in jail.


  • Boogs

    The two Graduate School assistant deans whose incompetence have mired Yale in this mess, which will no doubt cost the institution millions (enough to fund quite a few graduate students), will certainly keep their jobs. That’s how Yale Graduate School works: protect the bloated, skill-less bureaucracy at all cost. Believe me, in the present job market and given their “qualifications”, unemployment for them would probably be a sentence of very early retirement.

  • attila

    Boogs has a good point. The cost of this incident to Yale is huge, but the graduate school remains a mess. Their basic admin functions are performed so poorly that they cannot provide timely, basic information.

  • my5cents

    According to the memoir, Shin claims that Pamela Schirmeister and one other Yale official were actually present in Shin’s Ph.D. thesis defense session held at York Street. Furthermore, Shin claims that the discovery process revealed internal emails at Yale which in effect contained the following exchanges between Yale officials: “What shall we do?” “Let’s just ignore her”. If what she claims is correct, I can even suspect the case of bribery: that some Yale officials have been actually bribed to issue false degrees, and that is scary. This book has become a runaway bestseller in Korea by the way and Yale’s reputation has become tarnished, to say the least.