Yahoo Becomes The Latest Victim Of Education Fraud

Robert Capwell

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DiplomaOn Sunday May 13th 2012, Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson resigned as CEO of the search engine giant after growing pressure from angry shareholders for embellishing his education credentials.  Mr. Thompson stated that he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and computer science from Stonewall College, where he actually only obtained an accounting degree.  In fact, Stonewall College did not even offer computer science degrees until 1983 after Mr. Thompson graduated in 1979.  Certainly a huge blunder on Mr. Thompson’s part as he was only CEO at Yahoo since January of 2012 and came with much experience such as past President of PayPal, EVP of Technology Solutions at Inovant, a subsidiary of Visa, and even held the role of CIO at Barclays Global Investors.  Surely Mr. Thompson had the background and employment experience to do great things at Yahoo.  Now Yahoo finds itself in the middle of a national media storm along with the huge burden of damage control for their brand.  The expensive task of replacing Mr. Thompson lies ahead for Yahoo and the task that will be even harder is to restore shareholder confidence.  Mr. Thompson is not alone in embellishing his education credentials as other corporate executives and even employees in academics have been exposed.

  • In April, 2007, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) received an anonymous tip questioning the academic history of the Dean of Admissions, Marilee Jones.  The investigation resulted in Ms. Jones’ resignation and the surprising discovery that she, in fact, did not have college degrees (bachelor’s or masters) from any of the schools she had listed on her resume.  Ms. Jones had received a bachelor’s degree from a small school, The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, but had never listed that school on her resume.  MIT never verified any of Ms. Jones’ degrees when she was hired as an administrative assistant in 1979.
  • In 2006, David Edmondson, CEO of RadioShack, resigned after executives discovered that he had falsely claimed two degrees from a Baptist college in California.
  • In 2001, George O'Leary’s Irish dreams ended within one week of being hired as head football coach when Notre Dame discovered, and Mr. O’Leary admitted, that his resume was false.  He had neither earned a master’s degree from New York University (NYU) - Stoney Brook nor played football at the University of New Hampshire.  Mr. O’Leary had been coaching for many years and no one thought to ever question the veracity of the information on his resume.
  • Ronald Zarrella, CEO of Bausch & Lomb, boasted a master's degree in business administration from NYU, which he did attend but never graduated.  Mr. Zarrella was forced to forfeit a $1.1 million dollar bonus; however, remained at the firm.

What Employers Need To Learn About Education Fraud From Executives
Many employers overlook the proper due diligence of academic credentials of senior executives.  Corporate boards and even senior management seem to let their guards down when it comes to verifying prior academic credentials at this level.  Most executives are judged by their prior work performance and accomplishments they leave behind with their previous employers.  They only assume that the academic credentials candidates provide must be true and surely verified by previous employers.  Maybe corporate boards are just embarrassed to ask for verification of something they feel is pretty trivial or insignificant after several years of a work experience.  Many times, prior lies and embellishments go undetected for that very reason as many executives work up through the ranks and education credentials were not part of the hiring criteria for the position sought at the time.  In addition, the trend of verifying credentials was not customary in the 70s, 80s or even early 90s when many of these individuals joined the workforce which let many embellishers slip through the cracks.  With today’s trend of increasing diploma mills and fraudulent online degree scams, employers are taking a second look at education verification and making the education credentialing process a mainstay in many positions. Proper verification up front can detect such fraud before an employee climbs the corporate ladder.  Just think, only a few dollars and a minimum amount of time could have eliminated every one of the scenarios described above.  Executives and leaders of every corporation need to be held to a higher standard as they’re the ambassadors of the corporate brand.  In many instances, they’re in the public eye and under much scrutiny from a variety of stakeholders.  Integrity and credibility are key when hiring an executive that is truly the icon and spokesperson hired to represent the company’s public image.

At Employment Background Investigations, Inc. (EBI), we urge employers to verify the legitimacy of a candidate’s education background and not to take a candidate’s, employee’s or even an executive’s supplied education credentials at face value.  Fraud is on the rise and employers need to take a proactive stance to properly vet their workforce.  EBI works on behalf of employers to properly verify a subject’s credentials.  Our experienced Verification Specialists take several steps to verify if a degree is from a legitimate institution.

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Robert Capwell

Posted By: Robert Capwell

EBI’s Chief Knowledge Officer, Mr. Robert E. Capwell, is considered one of the leading experts in the background screening industry with over 22 years of experience in the field. Mr. Capwell was a contributing author of the second edition of the ASIS Pre-employment Background Screening Guidelines and has written numerous articles and whitepapers for various publications including a periodic column on background screening for The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Online. He has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Human Resource Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, and several HR-related publications. Mr. Capwell speaks regularly to industry colleagues and HR Professionals both nationally and internationally.

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