In the latest development in the international Shingate scandal, disgraced art-history professor Shin Jeong-ah was convicted Monday by a Korean court for forging a doctorate degree from Yale.
Shin, whose scandal spurred a $50 million federal lawsuit against the University for not catching the fake degree when asked to verify it by Shin’s employer, will serve 18 months in prison. Shin was also found to have embezzled money from an art museum that she used to curate.
The 36-year-old Shin had been a rising star in the Korean art world, with prestigious positions on the faculty of Dongguk University and as the curator of one of the country’s most prestigious art exhibits. She claimed to have degrees from Yale and the University of Kansas — neither of which she ever actually attended.
But for two years, Shin had convinced the world otherwise. In 2005, she faked a letter from an official in the 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, Yale officials mistakenly did so.
But the art-history professor’s fairy-tale ascent came crashing down last summer when an official at Dongguk raised concerns about the authenticity of her degree, which she had forged two years earlier. When presented with inquiries about Shin, Yale officials denied having verified that Shin had graduated from the University and said she was a fraud.
Late in 2007, however, Yale officials realized that they had indeed confirmed that Shin had received a Yale degree — though only because of an administrative error — and apologized to Dongguk.
Yale’s contrition was not enough, however, for the Korean university, which last week sued Yale for $50 million in damages over its role in Shingate, saying Dongguk was “publicly humiliated and deeply shamed in the eyes of the Korean population” because of Yale’s error in confirming Shin’s degree.
Shin’s alleged lover, Byeon Yang-kyoon, a 59-year-old former aide to Korea’s president, was convicted too, for using his government position to help get Shin hired; he was sentenced Monday to a suspended one-year sentence and 160 hours of community service.
But a judge rejected allegations that he was an accomplice in the degree forgeries.
“Mr. Byeon and Ms. Shin were just lovers who cared for each other,” Kim Myeong-seop, judge of the Seoul Western District Court, said in the ruling, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Prosecutors had sought for both to be sentenced to four years in prison. Shin and Byeon now have one week to decide whether to appeal their sentences.
Yale officials, meanwhile, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on the ruling. But in February, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy made clear on whom the University places the blame for Shingate.
“The wrongdoer,” he said in an e-mail, “is Jeong Ah Shin, and not Yale.”
—The Associated Press contributed reporting from Seoul.