by: Marc Santora
When Shin Jeong-ah, a rising star in the art world, applied for a job at South Korea’s prestigious Dongguk University in 2005, one credential stood out above the rest: a doctorate in art history from Yale.
In a country where a premium is placed on impressive degrees, so much so that it can even affect marriage proposals, Yale is about as good as it gets.
But two years later, it was revealed that Ms. Shin had never received a Yale degree, embarrassing Dongguk officials and setting off a scandal that quickly spread beyond the school to prominent figures across the country.
Ms. Shin would eventually be convicted of falsifying records — including a document she claimed certified her Yale degree — and embezzlement.
But Dongguk officials also felt wronged by Yale, which in 2005 had mistakenly confirmed the authenticity of Ms. Shin’s credentials.
It was not until two years later that the university acknowledged its mistake and apologized. But by then, Dongguk officials said, the damage had been done.
In 2008, they filed a lawsuit for $50 million in damages in Federal District Court in Connecticut, saying Yale had engaged in “reckless” and “wanton” conduct, and had defamed Dongguk, which “was publicly humiliated and deeply shamed in the eyes of the Korean population.”
After more than five years of court battles, a federal appeals court found in Yale’s favor on Thursday, upholding an earlier ruling by a lower court.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that Dongguk “has failed to present any evidence that any individual at Yale who was responsible for publication of a defamatory statement acted with actual malice,” which Dongguk needed to prove. The court said actual malice required acting with knowledge that a statement was “false or with a reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
Dongguk said it lost millions in contributions and the opportunity to build a new law school, but the court ruled that it had not proved that it was Yale’s mistake and subsequent denials that harmed its reputation.
Instead, the court found that other news media reports that surfaced after the forgery came to light could have been more damaging.
“Ultimately, the Shin scandal was exacerbated by media reports that Shin had had an affair with Byeon Yang-kyoon, a South Korea government official,” the court wrote. “The scandal includes reports that Byeon had pressured a Dongguk board member to cover up Shin’s fraud and had arranged for government funding of the private temple of Dongguk’s board chairman.”
The Shin scandal unfolded under intense media scrutiny in South Korea.
In the weeks after it was first reported that Ms. Shin had forged her credentials, there was a wave of accusations and confessions by leading national figures, including a Buddhist monk, a movie director, an architect, a popular comic book writer, a celebrity chef, actors and actresses, and a former TV news anchor.
“Before, we struggled more with fake luxury goods,” Moon Moo-il, a prosecutor who is leading a crackdown on document misrepresentation at the prosecutor general’s office, said at the time. “Now that we have entered the knowledge-based society, we have to deal with an overflow of fake knowledge.”
This article was written by Marc Santora and originally published on nytimes