Why Harvard Students’ Work Ethic should be examined
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Do Professors lie on their Resumes?

Ethics in Academe sometimes defies Explanation

Do professors routinely lie on their resumes to get jobs? My gut feeling is it occurs more often than one would expect. I’ve seen it myself in recruiting a new professor who had said he had earned a Ph.D. when he had dropped out of the program at the dissertation stage. Those of us who have gone through the process of writing a dissertation can relate to the pressures it creates and difficulty just surviving the process. Still, that doesn’t excuse lying about it or rationalizing using it to get a job when one doesn’t qualify for the job because of the lack of a Ph.D. Upon questioning the candidate told me that he planned to go back and finish the paper. I told him that maybe I’d plan to hire him after he carries out his plan to finish the degree. That wasn’t a pleasant conversation.

I just read about a disturbing case where last month it was disclosed that a faculty assembly at the University of Iowa's largest college has approved a motion of censure against the incoming UI president for including inaccuracies on his resume during the recent search process.

Several faculty, student and staff groups on campus have issued "no confidence" votes or other complaints about the recent presidential search process overseen by the Iowa Board of Regents. Those censures, however, have stopped short of directly criticizing Bruce Harreld, who was selected unanimously by the regents September 3 as UI's 21st president.

I don’t get it. He lies on his resume to get a president’s job at a major college and the Board of Regents doesn’t directly criticize the would-be president for the lie? What am I missing here? Is the Board blaming its own process for the result? It probably should but I doubt that is the motivation. It’s probably to “save face” or draw less attention to what happened. Not very ethical or responsible.

On the other hand, the Faculty Assembly did the right thing. After meeting in closed session the Faculty Assembly of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences unanimously approved the motion against Harreld for failing to uphold "the highest ethical standards" and violating professional ethics by misrepresenting his recent work experience and publication history.

"I think the message is that values and ethics matter," said Bob McMurray, a professor of psychology. "This is not a call for any action. This is not saying that we will not support President Harreld. ... But it is a statement that we expect people to behave with intellectual honesty."

Now I don’t get it again. It’s as if what the Faculty Assembly giveth (rightly criticizing unethical behavior) it taketh away by backing off and saying they’ll back a president who lied on his resume to get the job. Huh? What am I missing? Talk about a lack of courage and integrity.

Let’s look at the specifics. The two discrepancies listed by the censure motion concern how Harreld described his recent work experience and publication history.

On his resume, Harreld listed his most recent employment as managing principal of Executing Strategy LLC in Avon, Colorado. During his September 1 public forum, Harreld noted the listing had been a mistake. He used the name of a limited liability company that he had been using in Massachusetts but no longer needed now that his clients wanted him to assume liability directly. He allowed that company to lapse.

“So that’s ‘Shame on me.' I too quickly pulled it out of my head and put it on the resume," he said. "There's no Colorado corporation. ... It’s me personally working.”

Oh please. You mean to tell me he didn’t have a resume waiting to go before he applied for the UI job? I believe the statement that he “pulled it out of my head and put it on the resume" is an attempt to cover up the lie and make it look more acceptable to the university community. As in most cases of bad acts the explanation for an unethical action is worse than the act itself.

Neither Harreld nor the regents have said anything regarding the faculty assembly's second charge: that Harreld failed to note on his resume that most of the 12 papers listed under publications were co-authored. Such a failure amounts to claiming sole credit for work this is not yours alone, said Russ Ganim, chairman of the faculty assembly, and is in violation of the rules.

This offense is worse because it cheats co-authors out of a citation they deserve and worked hard to achieve. This is almost as bad as using a student’s paper as the basis for a research publication and not acknowledging the student or getting his/her approval. And by the way that happens all the time.

If you think this is an isolated incident, think again. Back in 2014 a Polk State College professor, David Broxterman, provided a fake diploma and academic transcripts from the University of South Florida on his application to Polk State College. The school hired him in 2009 as a business professor. A close inspection of the diploma reveals that "board" is spelled wrong in one place, and the signature of USF President Judy Genshaft doesn't match her signature on other diplomas. A spokesperson said in light of the incident, the college will start using a third party to verify all academic transcripts and diplomas before hiring candidates.

Good idea but it’s sad that we have to verify the veracity of those who are supposed mold students into being contributing members of society and better human beings.

The saddest case I’ve heard of, and at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, happened in 2007 when Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials, and resigned after nearly three decades at M.I.T. Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.

“I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since,” Ms. Jones said in a statement posted on the institute’s Web site. “I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the M.I.T. community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities.”

The action speaks for itself. Beyond that, I have to wonder how someone can rise to the level of a dean without any relevant academic credentials. Does that this mean those credentials are a joke? Why do you need them to get ahead?

I’m reaching the end of my journey in academe and will share my insights and feelings at a later date. For now I’ll go back to my ethics book and maybe write a new case study about these experiences of university folks. Don’t worry, I’ll give them the proper attribution they deserve.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 22, 2015. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.ethicssage.com.