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The best of the best? … or just petty little liars with falsified titles? 

Falsified titles

In our most recent blog post (Will your MD kill you?) we talked about how falsified titles in critical fields like medicine literally affect people’s lives. But falsifying documents and titles is not always a question of life and death. There are many documented high-profile cases, where trusted leaders were less than honest when it came to their academic and professional achievements.

Who are these cheaters?

Some of the most well-known cases are the ones of:

  1. Marilee Jones, who worked for 28 years with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), many of them as Director of Admissions. In this assignment, Marilee Jones was responsible to filter prospective MIT students, their previous academic achievements and their ethical and moral compass. Well, it turns out that when she applied to MIT her own moral compass was ‘a bit off’ and she stated to have graduated from a program she never did. (https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/27/us/27mit.html)
  2. Ronald Zarrella, CEO of contact lens maker Bausch&Lomb was caught with a lie about his degrees, however, the Board of Directors supported him and he kept leading the company. (https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB103592955485648631)
  3. Scott Thompson, the former Yahoo CEO, was not so lucky and had to leave Yahoo after his creative writing skills on his CV were made public. (https://money.cnn.com/2012/05/13/technology/yahoo-ceo-out/index.htm)  
  4. David Edmondson, CEO of RadioShack did have to resign after only one year in office. Instead of two claimed degrees, he actually had none. (https://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/21/business/radioshack-chief-resigns-after-lying.html)

These are just a few of the cases made public. The real number of degrees and certificate falsification in the corporate world is very likely much higher. Most cases are either ‘handled internally’ or never even see daylight.

Some might argue that this is not really a problem, as long as these executives are ‘doing a good job’. I strongly beg to differ, for a number of reasons:

First: Moral Compass

Corporate and political leaders are not just the ‘captain of the boat’ but play a fundamental role as the moral and ethical compass of their organization. These leaders do have a fundamental impact on the culture of large organizations and the behavior of thousands of employees. Allowing criminal acts (yes, falsification of titles is a crime!) to go unpunished sends a strong signal to the whole organization: “Just go for it! Fake it, you’ll make it!”. This will ripple through the organization and sooner or later affect not only the personal life of employees but endanger the corporation itself.

Second: Meritocracy

We proudly claim the meritocratic nature of our society. “If you only work hard enough and study, you can make it to the top!”, is what we are inculcating in our children. The behavior of the corporate (moral) leaders listed above is contrary to what we teach. You might not believe in the concept of fairness, but having your children study for years and working hard, only to compete against someone who never played by the rules … how does that make you feel? If we want to maintain and build upon a meritocratic society, we have to be consequent and not allow the kind of behavior in the above list.

Third: Economic Impact

Besides morals and meritocracy, there is also a very profound economic impact this kind of fraud has. The educational system in the US and many countries all over the globe is based on an interplay between the acquisition of competencies, their certification and the valuation of these competencies by the industry. Allowing falsification of titles and documents does not only put companies economically at risk. Falsified titles also have a profound impact on institutions of higher education. Each individual who decides to falsify a title instead of attending higher education increases actually the cost for students attending university. This is putting even more pressure on enrolled students: 1) paying more 2) competing against younger candidates with ‘fake’ degrees.

Students, universities and companies alike have to find ways to respond to the threat of falsified titles to our educational system that has evolved over the decades and has been the basis of the economic development of our society. Not talking about this threat is not the way to go. Creative solutions are needed in order to preserve the contract of trust between students, universities and the society at large. (Getting the job of your dreams)

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