Two days ago, the public facade Philip Shaw had built for himself as a Yale undergraduate came tumbling down. It was not the first time.
Shaw, who misled several students into thinking he was junior enrolled in Ezra Stiles College, successfully joined a Yale fraternity and the Yale Political Union, wrote four columns for the Yale Daily News, and penned an article for The Politic.
Shaw was in fact enrolled in the Special Students Program, which allows non-resident students to take Yale courses for credit. Last year, he was involved in a similar situation at Harvard University.
Prior to that, Shaw said he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I just wanted to apologize to the friends I made here for perhaps misleading them,” Shaw said. “What I did constituted a critical lapse in judgment for which I accept full responsibility.”
Shaw said he tried to apply to Yale as a regular undergraduate but was told to enter the Special Students Program in order to improve his record and then reapply. He said he took four classes, including economics professor Ben Polak’s game theory course.
Just before the end of last semester, Shaw joined the new branch of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity that was being established on campus.
“It was started by two recruiters from the national office that came in, that’s how Philip managed to get in,” said Aaron Shelley ’05, chaplain and chairman of the standards committee. “They didn’t know that he wasn’t an undergrad.”
Shaw became vice president of finance for the Yale branch of the fraternity, posing as an economics major with a 3.9 grade point average, Shelley said.
After unspecified violations of the fraternity’s code of standards, Shaw attracted extra scrutiny from other members. Johnny Lu ’05, the fraternity’s chair of philanthropy, said Shaw was temporarily suspended by the national fraternity.
Lu said he received an e-mail from a friend containing a link to an article about a student with a name similar to Shaw’s who had claimed to be a Harvard undergraduate last year. Lu then sent the link to the president of the fraternity.
“I didn’t know what would happen,” Lu said. “I thought he was a student.”
At first, the fraternity members joked about the article, which discussed a man by the name of Philip A. Shaw, Shelley said. The Shaw they knew was Philip W. Shaw.
The strange similarity prompted Shelley to search for Shaw on Yale’s online facebook. Shaw did not have a facebook entry, and his phonebook entry contained only an e-mail address.
Sigma Phi Epsilon was not the only organization Shaw allegedly duped. He was involved in the Yale Political Union and also wrote four opinion columns for the Yale Daily News last fall and an article for The Politic.
Those involved in activities with Shaw remember him as enthusiastic and eager for acceptance.
“[Shaw] was really excited about all these events,” Lu said.
Shaw had a similar approach to activities in Cambridge, Harvard friends said. He ran for a board position of the Harvard Republican Club immediately after he arrived on campus. Brian Grech, a former president of the club, said a number of things seemed odd after the fact: Shaw claimed to be a transfer student but the other transfer students did not know him. In addition, he was never seen at the residential house he claimed to be affiliated with and claimed to live in a building that only housed families.
The most common reaction to Shaw’s actions was surprise. Michael McKnight, the current chairman of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans, of which Shaw was treasurer two years ago, said Shaw had resigned from the group and told members he was going to Harvard.
“He was a nice guy when he was here. I got along with him well,” McKnight said. “We’re all just stunned.”
Grech said he had spent a lot of time with Shaw in Harvard activities and was completely fooled.
“Nothing seemed incredible about the guy,” Grech said. “It’s not like he was malicious.”
Shaw said he has decided to temporarily stop his studies in order to concentrate full-time on his hedge fund, which he said is doing well.