When it comes to Dongguk University’s $50 million lawsuit over Yale’s mistaken verification of an art-history professor’s fake doctorate, Yale — as promised — is not going down without a fight.
In court papers submitted this month, attorneys for the University said they would soon file a motion for Dongguk’s suit to be dismissed and warned that any trial involving the suit would become a multinational conflagration involving thousands of documents and dozens of witnesses across two continents.
Yale administrators have promised to fight the lawsuit if for no other reason than what they call its sheer ridiculousness. And the University’s lawyer, Felix J. Springer, seems to believe that will not be much of a challenge.
“Yale’s motion to dismiss,” he promised in a motion filed with the Connecticut District Court last week, “will likely dispose of the entire case.”
In the meantime, Springer suggested that the true story behind the controversy lies in “a scandal involving fraud, embezzlement, an illicit sexual relationship, and political corruption” in South Korea — and not malfeasance on the part of Yale administrators, as Dongguk claimed in the lawsuit.
The Korean university asserted in March that it was “publicly humiliated and deeply shamed in the eyes of the Korean population” because Yale wrongly confirmed the authenticity of a Yale degree fabricated by an art-history professor at Dongguk, Shin Jeong-ah, and then, when the fake degree was uncovered, mistakenly asserted that Dongguk University had never tried to verify its authenticity in the first place.
But Yale attorneys argue that the Korean university had been informed as early as April 2007 that Shin’s claimed Yale degree was a fake and did not fire her until a media firestorm erupted last summer, “long after Shin’s lies unraveled,” as the filing put it.
Regardless, the University rejected Dongguk’s claims ranging from negligence to breach of contract, saying in the filing that Yale administrators did not defame the Korean university and, overall, caused it no harm.
“The University will ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that it fails to state a legally valid claim,” Yale spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in an e-mail message Tuesday.
This was not the first time that the University has asserted, point-blank, that Dongguk’s lawsuit was devoid of value. And, once again, the Korean university’s attorney, Ira Grudberg ’57 LAW ’60, rejected Yale’s dismissal.
“We don’t think it has merit,” Grudberg said this week of Yale’s efforts to have the suit dismissed. “But until we see it,” he added, “it’s difficult to respond.”
Since the scandal erupted last summer, Shin has been fired, arrested, exposed in nude photographs in a leading newspaper, stalked by paparazzi and, most recently, sentenced to serve 18 months in prison for faking a degree.
Shin’s secret lover, the 59-year-old former presidential aide Byeon Yang-kyoon GRD ’87, was also convicted in the scandal for having used his power to help Shin secure her job. The University ostensibly promised to delve into the sex scandal if the suit goes to trial, suggesting it, among other things, “will be at the heart of this case.”
The episode has become known around the world as Shingate, a term even the University’s lawyers adopted in its own court filings.
Shin, 36, had managed to climb to the summit of Korea’s art scene before her fraudulent past was widely publicized last summer. In 2005, she fabricated 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 administrators to confirm the authenticity of that document, a Yale dean mistakenly obliged.
But by last summer, Shin’s lies were splashed across the front pages of Korean newspapers, and she fell from grace, at times promising to travel straight to New Haven, march onto the Yale campus and prove she did indeed receive a degree from the University. That never happened.
Meanwhile, when first presented with inquiries about Shin, Yale officials denied having verified that Shin had graduated from the University and asserted she was lying.
But by the end of last year, Yale officials acknowledged they had actually verified that Shin had received a Yale degree — though only by an error in what was described as the rush of business — and offered profuse apologies to Dongguk officials. The University also changed its policies for verifying alumni degrees, promising not to rely on external documents but rather verify the status of a supposed alumnus using its own internal records.
Last week’s court filing was a technicality; the filing was merely a motion to postpone discovery in the case until the University files its motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the court rules on it.
The next step in the ongoing tussle between Dongguk and Yale will be a pre-trial conference on Monday among lawyers for both parties and the judge handling the case, United States Magistrate Judge Donna F. Martinez.