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Penn dean put on leave in probe over degree

The University of Pennsylvania placed the vice dean of its Graduate School of Education on administrative leave late Wednesday after The Inquirer began asking questions about his false claim to have a doctoral degree.

Doug E. Lynch is vice dean of a Penn graduate school.
Doug E. Lynch is vice dean of a Penn graduate school.Read more

The University of Pennsylvania placed the vice dean of its Graduate School of Education on administrative leave late Wednesday after The Inquirer began asking questions about his false claim to have a doctoral degree.

Doug E. Lynch has claimed on his resumé that he received the degree from Columbia University. A faculty website repeatedly refers to him as "Dr. Lynch."

Earlier Wednesday, Penn officials said they became aware of the misrepresentation a couple of months ago, taking unspecified "appropriate sanctions" but deciding to leave Lynch in his leadership role.

That changed after The Inquirer placed a call to Penn president Amy Gutmann for comment. The university then issued a one-sentence statement from Stephen J. MacCarthy, vice president for university communications.

"Doug Lynch has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation," MacCarthy's statement said.

Lynch, 47, a specialist in nontraditional education, declined to comment Wednesday. Kat Stein, spokeswoman for the graduate school, said Lynch maintained he was unaware he did not have the degree. "He mistakenly believed that it was complete," she said.

As vice dean, he has been overseeing executive and continuing education, and also is responsible for marketing, outreach, admissions, financial aid, and the development of new programs. He created the first doctoral program of its kind for work-based learning executives at the Wharton School.

Wednesday morning, the office of provost Vincent Price, who oversees academic affairs, referred questions to the school's press office. In an initial interview, Stein made no mention of any plan to place Lynch on leave. "We feel this has been resolved to our satisfaction," she said.

After MacCarthy issued the new statement, the university declined to say whether Lynch was being paid during his leave.

"I would not expect the investigation to require a great deal of time," MacCarthy said.

Some faculty and staff, who first heard about Lynch's lack of doctorate a couple of months ago, were concerned that he remained in his position and sat on dissertation committees even though he does not have a doctorate.

"It's a very serious issue," said one faculty member who requested anonymity. "When students do anything that violates academic integrity, we don't hesitate to take serious actions immediately."

Penn's initial reaction and Lynch's explanation also surprised some outside the institution.

"I know in other cases that misrepresentation is almost automatic grounds for dismissal," said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University, who added that Lynch's claim that he was unaware of the status of his doctorate was "almost impossible to believe."

In December, Yale University's head football coach resigned after he said he was a Rhodes scholar candidate and the New York Times subsequently reported that Rhodes had no record of his applying for the scholarship.

The dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology resigned in 2007 after nearly three decades when it was learned that she had fabricated her credentials. She did not even have an undergraduate degree.

"The issue really has to do with the intellectual integrity of what goes on in academia [and] has to take precedence over any individual's position," Ehrenberg said. "Presumably what has happened in this case is that the school or the university has decided that this faculty member is so valuable that they want to keep him, or maybe they believe the claim he made."

Indeed, academic integrity is considered vital by educators at Penn.

Maurice Schweitzer, a Wharton professor who studies business ethics, said companies should take a hard line on misrepresented academic credentials to "demonstrate a commitment to ethics," according to a 2008 Wall Street Journal article.

Anita L. Allen, a Penn professor of law and philosophy, in a 2007 column in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger decried "resumé deception" as harmful to colleges and universities.

She wrote that it "undervalues serious educational institutions and the organizations that credential skilled workers and professionals. Diplomas cannot be categorically dismissed as just pieces of paper."

Lynch's faculty Web page at one time also said that he had received a master's degree in philosophy, economics, and education from Columbia University in 2005. So does his Wikipedia page.

In fact, he did not get that master's degree until 2010, according to Columbia.

On the same sites, it said he received his doctorate in 2007.

Stein said: "There are often inaccuracies on the website in a number of different areas and we work as hard as we can to rectify them when we find them."

The degrees were not an issue when Lynch was hired by Penn in 2004.

At that time, he said he had his bachelor's degree from Arizona State University and his M.B.A. in international finance from New York University.

Since joining Penn, Lynch has become a lightning rod for controversy. He has pushed entrepreneurial methods and supported programs such as Teach for America, which puts bright college graduates who lack education degrees in some of the nation's toughest public schools for a two-year commitment.

A February 2011 feature on him in Penn's alumni magazine said: "What happens when you unleash an entrepreneurship evangelist on an education school? Meet Doug Lynch, the vice dean bent on making Penn GSE a hub for social entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and next-generation educational reform."

When a former student asked him if she could copy and use parts of her Penn executive doctorate program in her for-profit education program at Fremont College, Lynch gave her the following advice, according to the article: "Steal shamelessly."

Lynch is also a senior policy fellow at Penn's Fels Institute of Government, according to his resumé. He had been an academic director at Wharton from 2006 until 2010. He previously worked for New York University and the College Board, according to Penn.

He also is a member of the board of visitors for the Central Intelligence Agency University.

Penn professor John Puckett said Lynch had unfairly been targeted because he is trying to shake up the graduate school and make it better. He said Lynch had made an "honest mistake."

Lynch, he said, told him that the chair of the dissertation committee at Columbia had assured him not to worry about the changes he was being asked to make.

"Doug's a little sloppy. He moves from one project to another in a great hurry," Puckett said.

When Lynch found out he didn't have a doctorate and it had become an issue, "he was mortified," Puckett said.

"He offered his resignation. It was not accepted."

That came as a surprise to some staffers.

"Many are shocked that the provost and others have not demanded he be fired," said a university staff member.

Some faculty members said Lynch never should have served on dissertation committees while not having a doctorate.

But Stein said university rules do not require that everyone on a dissertation committee have a doctorate, as long as there are at least three members who have one.

She said Lynch told her the doctorate was near completion.

Columbia said Lynch's period of eligibility for his doctorate was extended until the end of the spring 2012 semester. The university, also an Ivy League school, declined comment on Lynch's assertion that he already had earned the degree.