The Disappearing Degree (K-12/ Higher Ed)

The Disappearing Degree

As head of a foundation that funds arts programs in a southern city, Connie helps initiate a program to bring artists-in-residence into the middle schools. Her seven-member committee has received numerous applications, including one from Hamilton Craft, perhaps the best-known painter in the region. His national reputation and amiable personality make him a natural for Connie’s program—and he lets it be known around the city that he was applying. Reviewing the applications, Connie has little doubt he would be selected.

On the resume submitted with his application, Craft has listed a Ph.D. in art history, received from an east coast university in the late 1960s.  Connie’s assistant, doing routine background checks on the artists, is astonished to discover that the university has no record of such a degree. Craft had indeed enrolled in a doctoral program, but never completed it. He does not hold a Ph.D., his resume plainly misstates the facts.

Connie tells the committee and then confronts Craft. Cordial as ever, he explains that just as he was completing the work for his doctorate, he had been drafted into the army. What he had meant to write on the resume, he explains, is, “Course work completed for Ph.D.”—a phrase often used in resumes to indicate that the candidate never completed the writing of the dissertation. But somehow that phrase got shortened simply to “Ph.D.”

Then, turning surprisingly tough, Craft warns her that if the committee refuses him on this technicality—an issue that surely had little bearing on his ability to work with a classroom of middle schoolers—he would sue them for mishandling his application and potentially defaming his character.

Chairing the committee, Connie watches it deadlock in a three-to-three vote. It falls to her to break the tie. What should she do?


108 thoughts on “The Disappearing Degree (K-12/ Higher Ed)

  1. Unfortunately, Connie is in an extremely difficult situation. She must decide whether the integrity and honesty of the person she hires outweighs the talents and reputation that the person brings to the table. She also has to consider whether or not she wants to put herself and her organization in a situation where they will have to deal with a lawsuit.
    If Connie’s moral code is strong and she values integrity and honesty above all, then she will face any consequences such as lawsuit, money, time and not hire Craft. In fact, Craft has shown his true colors twice in this scenario, first by falsifying information on his resume, and secondly by threatening to sue the foundation for his obvious errors.
    In addition, if Connie, as a leader, decides to disregard Craft’s dishonesty, then she creates a culture where corruption is acceptable and alienates those members and employees who have a strong moral compass.
    On the other hand, if Connie wants to attract more attention to her foundation and ensure that a talented artist will share his knowledge and expertise with the students, then she would want to hire Craft. The fact that he has not completed his PhD does not mean he cannot assume the roles and responsibilities of the job and excel in the position.
    Consequently, it is crucial for Connie to reflect upon her own moral code and the foundation’s mission and vision in order to make decisions that align with both.

    • Hi Talar,
      I agree with you. Also, I think that sometimes the fear of a lawsuit clouds our decision. Ultimately, I have always felt that what starts wrong ends wrong. What the scenario doesn’t discuss is the HR procedures and protocol. General, an application applies and a screening process occurs to choose the top candidate to interview. As long as the screening process is consistent, applied to all candidates in the same criteria, then the tops candidates moves on. It is always possible to sue for any cause but when policies are applied equally, the employer can make a case based on their write protocol and practices.

      • Lupe, thank you for bringing up a good point of the policies and procedures of the Human Resources Department. If, indeed there are clear policies and procedures in place, then it is easier to defend the company’s position and hiring practices.

      • Lupe,

        You make some great points. In fact, what I am thinking now (after responding to a few comments) is the committee coming together and ultimately going with their first instinct. If they feel Craft’s actions to be immorally wrong, then they should just give the opportunity to another candidate. And, if (AND ONLY IF) all protocols and practices are justified by their team, then the committee should not have much to worry about, except perhaps an “ego hurt” artist. This is the primary reason that committees come together to make their arguments on who the best candidate is. Often, even the most “experienced” candidate can take a backseat to someone who has genuine integrity. We hear it all the time at Porterville College – “we just want to hire the BEST FIT for our PC Family.” 🙂

    • I say hire the artists, with the understanding that nowhere on the promotional literature will it state the artist has earned a Ph.D. If the artist presses for her to state so, then she can state the artist completed coursework but has not earned the degree. If they can not come to an agreement, then I would recommend not hiring the artist. Doing right does not necessarily mean doing good, and vice versa.

      • Ricardo,

        As heart-wrenching as it is…I agree with you. I believe Connie’s program can certainly use this debacle as a learning experience. After this incident, and for the future of their program, I feel it is necessary that the committee thoroughly outline their expectations (e.g. explain in detail if one has completed their Ph.D. or still needs to complete their dissertation(s). Although it does sound like the artist, Craft, knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote this on his CV/resume, one cannot guarantee that his intentions were to lie. And, for the simple reason that Craft can add value to an already flourishing program, I feel it would be something that the committee can work on for their future applications and overall expectations.

  2. The bottom line is the misrepresentation, even though Craft offers an explanation. What transpires after that is a threat to sue for ‘mishandling his application and potentially defaming his character.’ Now I’m no lawyer, and litigation is not an area of expertise for me. However, the initial unethical behavior of misrepresentation, followed by a threat to sue raises some serious red flags and many questions come to mind. First and foremost is how can the foundation be sued for ‘mishandling’ the application? It seems to me that they were doing their due diligence in checking their applicants. Lying on an application is not considered a desirable quality. Another question that comes to mind is, can he be trusted? What if there were an incident with one of the students, could he be trusted? What else has he misrepresented? How will this look for the foundation if/when word of this gets out (now that is it known, it will eventually come to light)? If the foundation does decide to overlook the incident, what does it say about the integrity and ethics of their culture? If the foundation keeps the secret and somewhere down the road this incident surfaces, what implications might be made regarding the transparency (or lack of transparency) of the foundation?

    With regard to defaming his character, the foundation does not need to bring the misrepresentation into the public light. They could let him know that he would not be selected due to the misrepresentation and leave it up to him to share the truth of what happened. With regard to public scrutiny for not selecting Craft, it could simply be stated that the applicant selected was the best choice based on required facets/needs of the program. In that instance, the only way slander would come out is if Craft decided to make things known. Though still not a pleasant situation, this tact may have the least amount of sting for all parties, and it allows Craft to walk away with a bit of dignity.

    On the flip side, a question that comes to mind is if a Ph.D. a requirement for the position? If it is not a minimum requirement, does not having a Ph.D. take away from what Craft has to offer to the students in the program? Based on his experience and ability to mentor/inspire young people to embrace the arts, is he the best person for the job? If so, does erasing the letters Ph.D. from the end of his ‘title’ make him any less capable? If Craft was to be accepted, he could be offered the opportunity with the understanding that he would be promoted without a Ph.D. reference.

    • I was also stuck on the threat of a lawsuit. To me threatening a lawsuit over your own mistake made me question the artist’s credibility. Ironically this blow to the artist’s credibility happened over a degree that isn’t a requirement of the job. In a way I think this made me question the honesty of the artist even more. He could have accurately represented his education and probably still have gotten the job. After the resume error was found, the artist probably still could have taken responsibility and saved his job prospect. Continuing to misrepresent his education and then reacting with threats once these errors were pointed out felt like the hostility of someone who had trouble with honesty in general. I would have serious issues with hiring someone whom I felt I could not trust.
      Fae reply #1

      • Rosanna, you make such good points. This candidate did lie on his application it would be difficult to trust such an individual. It will be extremely challenging to build a healthy functioning team when there is that one team member that others do not trust in.

  3. I was recently leading a discussion at work about communication techniques with difficult patrons and one participant wanted to present me with several hypothetical scenarios so I could give him definitive answers on what he should do in each case. I finally stopped him and told him that I hate hypotheticals and could not give him the answers he wanted because each situation is so different and involve nuances that need to be explored in the moment. We can create rules and guidelines based on likely questions and outcomes, but every situation is different and the subtleties that make every situation different are impossible to predict. Human judgement is an important part of any ethical decision. What were the intentions behind actions? What are the consequences of that action? If something is unethical, how serious a violation is it? In this case, someone misrepresented their education on a resume. The individual claims that there is a reasonable explanation for not finishing a degree as well as a reasonable explanation for how this misrepresentation appeared on a resume. If these explanations are believed the individual left a program to join the army and intended to convey that on the resume. The misinformation was accidental and there was no intention to deceive. This could still be interpreted as an oversight large enough to cause the hiring board to question the judgement of the individual even if there was not deception involved. The board could also conclude that an unintentional error about a degree not required for the position is not serious enough to influence their decision. The hiring board could also decide they do not believe the story presented to explain the resume discrepancy and that this causes them to have serious doubts about the integrity of the artist. I think these questions come down to the credibility of the artist. This isn’t a factor that can be answered in a hypothetical. I personally find the credibility of the artist lacking. He never pointed out the error to the hiring committee and only addressed the issue when he was forced to. The artist’s reaction of threatening a lawsuit also caused me to question his intentions. However, that is my own personal judgment and by no means the only reasonable conclusion to draw from this sequence of events.

    • Fae –

      It’s interesting that you mention your discussion at work regarding answers to hypothetical scenarios. In two of my classes I just finished teaching units on ethics … in a couple of the small discussion groups being facitlitated, some students were wanting to know what the ‘correct’ answers were to the scenarios provided. Understanding that there is more than one layer to consider when making ‘ethical’ decisions was a stretch for some. This scenario has many layers to it, but I do agree that when you get to the core of the issue, it is centered on the artist’s misrepresentation and compounded by his choice to make an excuse as opposed to taking accountability. For me, this led to questioning every intention of the artist from that point on.

  4. I do not really consider this a difficult decision. The artist misrepresented his education on his resume. When the inconsistency was discovered through due diligence, he made an excuse (plausible, perhaps) but then threatened litigation for misrepresentation. That conduct, in and of itself, seems to discredit the excuse. As disappointing as some might be in losing an artist of this caliber, it is more important to plant an ethical flag for your foundation. Will you lose your position for this? I doubt it. I would love to be an attorney who would take this case and defend my client for doing a thorough vetting process against a charge of mishandling a resume. I would love to be in that position. And if pigs happen to be flying that day and hell freezes over, it would still be an honor to fall on my sword for this. An individual who uses the threat of lawsuits to gain entry into situations that he cannot access honestly will continue to play this card until his lack of ethics is unveiled. I would never allow myself to be played in this way.

    • Brother Ed,

      I appreciate your response as always. However, I DO feel this is a difficult situation. Perhaps the next step for the art program is to communicate in person and direct with Mr. Hamilton Craft and get his take on the matter. I understand that ethics are a major concern (they always are), however, one must consider these questions: is this misunderstanding potentially worth losing everything? The information provided explains that the foundation specifically funds art programs in a southern city, therefore, a bad outcome will directly affect many. Moreover, with Craft’s popularity and reputation – does the program wish to take this gamble against someone that could potentially bring overall value to their own team? In addition, what “IF” the artist simply felt that he was in the right for putting down a Ph.D. in his CV/resume for the simple fact that there was no explanation to further describe his education on the application provided? I agree with you and most of my colleagues that the odds are that he is “stretching the truth,” however, if he is serious about his threat, his lawyer can simply mention this and it would be hard to defend something that is NOT in writing…in thorough detail. What I am saying is – Is all of this really worth it? Or, can the committee get together and work on some new additions to their application process to help prevent future incidents such as this one. Nevertheless, good insight. I think I have some new material to discuss in my Argumentation and Debate class 😉

    • Ed,

      As always, you have great insight and a great depth of knowledge. I am a little torn on this issue. On one hand, I wouldn’t want to hire someone who lied to me and then threatens litigation for misrepresentation. On the other hand, I think back to Dr. Harris’s class and the four frameworks we discussed throughout the semester. I am reminded of the political framework and how it’s like a jungle and you have to build coalitions and compromise for the greater good. Maybe have another meeting to discuss expectations and see where it goes. Obviously, he wants the position because, although he is famous, he openly tells others that he is applying. I think he got upset because someone as talented and well known as him has just been ousted for not having a Ph.D. I believe in second chances and maybe give him an opportunity to clarify things for himself. I’d like to leave with this example of football because I love sports. It’s the NFL draft and there is a football player, who is immensely talented and can really help your team win games. You interview him and he lies about several things that could or could not be important depending on how you see it. You then do a background check and find out the truth and bring it up to his attention. The team will probably set up another meeting to go over these lies to give that person another chance. I hope this made sense Ed. Again, thanks for your input and wisdom!

  5. Hamilton Craft is described as being perhaps the best-known painter in the region with a national reputation. With all of this publicity, experiences and a well-known reputation, Craft should have an impeccable resume, professionally created which states his accolades, experiences and education. Craft knowingly allowed the resume to be submitted erroneously. Boasting precisely where he was applying throughout the city, it is evident that he knew a committee would be reviewing his application and resume.

    If he was so concerned about a lawsuit against Connie and her team, then he certainly should have been concerned over the accuracy and validity of the submitted documents being that there was such competition. It is ethical to ensure that professionals, especially with national recognition, create and submit accurate documents of their education knowing very well the amount of publicity it would receive.

    The mere fact that he would threaten litigation against Connie and her team seems like a ploy and tactic to coerce her to hire him. Had he been forthright about his education, and with his national recognition, he probably would have been at the very least in the running for the opportunity. Connie’s team did the right thing in examining his experiences and conducting a background check. My response to him would indicate something to the effect that we adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and although he is very qualified, we have decided to go with another applicant. Misrepresentation on his application automatically disqualifies him for the position.

    • Sara,
      To be honest, I was leaning towards supporting Craft because of his qualifications and the expertise that he would be bringing into the middle schools. But after reading your reflection I am more disappointed with his response to Connie after he misrepresented himself, whether willfully or not. I believe that his response is the real reason why he should not be hired because if he truthfully made a mistake then he should have been apologetic and focused on rebuilding trust rather than threatening litigation against the foundation. I don’t believe it should be Connie’s responsibility to make him feel better or turn a blind eye to his mistake. Craft should do what it takes to right the wrong and be a good example for the children that he intends to work with.

    • Sara, I agree that given the level of this artists career, his resume should be well vetted. However, it is my experience that success does not always men professionalism. Some people manage to rise in careers without learning basic life skills. A lack of time management is one that I see many successful individuals fail at. Proofreading can be another. I do not think this is an excuse or a reason to gloss over this professional oversight, but I do think it is possible for someone to show a high level of some skills and a complete lack of other skills.

  6. Connie is certainly in a difficult situation. In fact, her entire committee is probably torn about this uncomfortable experience, including the assistant that noticed this MAJOR blemish. Here is the deal though: As a professor and business owner myself, I have always heard that one needs to “pick and choose their battles.” Yes, it is completely unethical what Craft “seems” to be doing – however, what “IF” the artist is not stretching the truth? Perhaps the artist felt that he was in the right for doing most of the work in his program and felt that he had the right to label this on his CV/Resume (even as unlikely as that sounds). One would need to look at the exact wording of the application process, and if it DOES state to label if applicants have completed their Ph.D. or are in the dissertation process, then, AND ONLY THEN, would this be a case of dishonesty. For the reason that Craft can bring a lot of value to the table, what I would suggest is to take this experience as a teaching moment. From this experience moving forward, the art program must be very intentional with the application wording and demands. Then, and only then, can there be precise expectations by all parties.

  7. Brother Jonathan,
    I always admire your wisdom. You tend to always look for lessons to be learned, and you succeed because you learn those lessons. Jerry mentions the Political Frame from Dr. Harris’s class, where coalition-building and compromise are essential. I have great admiration for both of you. Truthfully, these types of ethical scenarios induce in me a particularly vivid and personal sequela. For me, it comes down to character. What type of individual would misrepresent his credentials, and then threaten to sue when his misrepresentation is discovered? Some people would say that the ends justifies the means, and that this artist can bring a lot of good to this small southern city and their school arts programs. I certainly am a supporter of the arts. But I would have difficulty compromising on the character issue. This political inflexibility and moral rigidity served me very well professionally until it didn’t. But it always serves me personally. And we won’t always be professionals.

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