BY: ROB HOFFMAN
Between credential inflation, tuition hikes, professors claiming poverty level wages and a generation of increasingly fed up and chronically stressed out students—the prospect of enrolling in post secondary education looks bleak.
All of this, let me remind you, operates under the flimsy promise of earning a bullet point or two under the Education heading of one’s resume. Certainly, education cannot be quantified into the words “Bachelor of Arts” or “with a degree in biology”—but for the 38 Million or so unemployed youth in the United States alone looking for a ticket out of their parents’ basements, that one sentence could mean an awful lot.
Yet, for all those years of stress, toil and ramen dinners, how much consideration does this one sentence really buy from a prospective employer? Will your future employer even investigate the validity of this degree, or will they simply award it a quick approving nod before filing it away in a dusty cabinet, and calling you in for an interview?
In the case of these seven high profile leaders and CEOs, the situation has unfortunately favoured the dusty filing cabinet.
1. Marilee Jones, former dean of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Marilee Jones was the dean of MIT University for 28 years before it came to light that she never even graduated from college.
Jones joined the staff in 1979, and in 1997 became MIT’s dean of admissions (is it even necessary to mention the crippling irony of this?) Jones was also the 1997 Recipient of the “MIT Excellence Award for Leading Change,” the highest form of recognition for an administrative member, and the 2006 recipient of the “Gordon Y Billiard Award,” given to those who provide “special service of outstanding merit.”
However, Jones resigned the following year, stating “I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 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.”
Despite her lack of educational credentials, the Berkley College of Music has since picked up Jones as its college admissions consultant—which in a way actually makes a lot of sense.
2. Ronald Zarrella, former Bausch and Lomb CEO.
Ronald Zarrella attained a CEO position with Bausch and Lomb in 2001, one of the world’s leading eye health products suppliers.
Claiming to have a master’s degree in business administration from NYU, Zarrella was the perfect candidate—and until it surfaced that Zarrella never actually finished university at all, he actually provided a great deal of value for the company. However, after news of Zarrella’s faux educational experience, Bausch and Lomb shares began to drop.
Still, Zarrella maintained his position in the company, as the board deemed him simply too valuable to the company, even going so far as to praise his outstanding leadership skills and experience. I suppose educational stature has always withered in the shadow of real world experience—of which Zarrella had plenty.
Zarrella eventually left in 2008 on his own accord after becoming fed up with a high volume of complaints and recalls—not to mention hundreds of lawsuits on the basis of product liability.
All in all, not bad for a college dropout.
3. Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo! and president of PayPal.
In January of 2012, Scott Thompson attained CEO position at Yahoo! with a résumé that boasted a degree in computer science and accounting from Stonehill College.
However, a mere four and a half months later—and after an investigation from a Yahoo! shareholder and Third Point founder, Daniel S. Loeb—it came to light that although Thompson attended Stonehill, he never actually attained a degree in computer science.
Although Yahoo! claimed the mixup to be an “inadvertent mistake,” Thompson used the same faux résumé to attain his former position, President of PayPal.
Thompson has since been replaced by Marissa Mayer, and has taken a new position as CEO of ShopRunner, a competitor to Amazon Prime.
4. Joseph Cafasso, Fox News War Expert and Military Consultant.
Joseph Cafasso was Fox News’ war expert and consultant for the duration of the Afghanistan invasion.
In order to land the job, Cafasso’s résumé claimed him to be a Vietnam war-hero, even going so far as to fabricate a recipiency of the highly acclaimed Silver Star medal for bravery. Cafasso had also claimed involvement in the secret U.S. mission “Operation Eagle Claw,” to retrieve soldiers who were being held captive in Iran in 1980.
Cafasso’s impressive résumé and first-hand war experience would have made him the perfect candidate to discuss war and counter-terrorism initiatives on televised cable news. However, his military involvement turned out to be, well, non-existent.
Despite being a complete fraud, according to Fox News’ Washington bureau chief at the time, Kim Hume, Cafasso “made crucial contributions to our coverage of the war on terror,” taking “Fox’s war coverage to the next level.”
I mean he wasn’t totally inexperienced. After all, he did attend 44 days of boot camp in the mid-70s—before being discharged that is.
5. “Dr.” Laura Callahan, former Senior Director at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Laura Callahan held a number of positions of increasing stature over the years, including the Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Chief Information Officer, and the White House’s Senior Information Technology Manager.
By claiming a Ph.D. in computer science, along with a number of other academic degrees, Callahan gained access to oversee the US Department of Labor’s $420 Million budget, and managed databases containing key information on terrorism and U.S. security.
According to her fellow staff, Callahan’s management style was notably aggressive, insisting upon being referred to as “Doctor,” and never missing an opportunity to flaunt her status and educational background.
In 2003, it came to light that all of Callahan’s academic credentials were fabricated with the help of a diploma mill formerly located in Wyoming, under the name of Hamilton University. This fraudulent institution has since re-located to the Bahamas under the new name of Richardson University.
Callahan officially resigned on March 26th, 2004. She was never convicted or charged.
6. David J. Edmondson, former RadioShack CEO.
From college dropout to CEO of RadioShack, David J. Edmondson attained his position as RadioShack Vice President in 1994, by claiming to have attained two college degrees from the Heartland Baptist Bible College—a bachelor’s degree, and a Th.G (theology degree)—none of which he actually possessed.
According to the college, Edmondson only attended for two semesters before dropping out.
Executive Chairman, Leonard H. Roberts, originally chose Edmondson for the roll, who seemed regrettable that the news had ever surfaced, claiming that Edmondson—degree or not—had made many valuable contributions to RadioShack’s success.
Mr. Edmondson officially resigned from his position on February 20th, 2006, claiming a severance package shy of $1 million, all in cash.
Still, in my mind, the real question is: how does one become CEO of a company like RadioShack with a degree from an unaccredited bible college in the first place?
7. Janet Cooke, former Washington Post Journalist, and Pulitzer Prize Winner.
Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize was revoked in 1981 after admitting to fabricating her Washington Post story, Jimmy’s World.
Jimmy’s World was a story that Cooke wrote for the Washington Post, where she had “interviewed” a young boy named Jimmy, who had allegedly found himself in the grips of heroin addiction at the tender age of eight. In order to fake the story, Cooke resourced information from Washington social workers, gathering information on heroin addiction, which she then spun into a heart-wrenching tale of juvenile drug dependency that won her the Pulitzer Prize.
The falsification of Jimmy’s World followed in the footsteps of her journalistic résumé, also fabricated, and which she had used to attain a position with the Washington Post in the first place.
Her résumé listed her as a trilingual, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Vassar College—a tornado of striking credentials and achievements. And above all, according to the thoroughly impressed Washington Post staff at the time—Cooke was a good writer. Why would anyone question the credentials of an up and coming, young and thoroughly skilled professional, single-handedly harbouring one of the most remarkable stories of the year? They wouldn’t—and they didn’t.