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.