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05/05/92

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Senate votes to rescind student's diploma

STANFORD -- The Faculty Senate voted Thursday, April 30, to rescind the degree of a former student who apparently was admitted to Stanford on the basis of a fraudulent transcript.

The senate in June 1990 had routinely granted the student a bachelor of arts degree.

Citing privacy considerations, university officials will not reveal the former student's identity. "It is not our policy to protect forgers," Iris Brest, associate general counsel, told Campus Report. "But it is our policy to protect privacy of student records."

Given the privacy concern, the senate discussion bordered on the absurd. Several faculty members asked questions, but no details could be revealed. Acting Registrar Jack Farrell told senators he would welcome private conversations on the matter after the meeting or could discuss it openly if the senate went into executive session.

In the end, the senate agreed to simply trust the recommendation of the Academic Council Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement (C-AAA). The rescission passed with three abstentions.

In a separate interview, Farrell said he became aware of the deception Feb. 13, when he was alerted by the registrar of a professional school at another university. Comparing the former student's true Stanford record against the authentic-looking transcript submitted to the other university, Farrell discovered higher grades and extra courses on the bogus document.

"With the original transcript, I doubt the student would have gotten into the professional school," Farrell said, declining to name the institution.

Farrell then did some detective work, checking transcripts the student had submitted to gain admission to Stanford as a transfer student. Here, too, grades had been improved and courses added. Evaluating credits on the legitimate transcripts, Farrell discovered that the student had not fulfilled Stanford's graduation requirements.

"Even disregarding the dishonesty and fraud, the student failed to meet graduation requirements and therefore does not deserve a degree," Farrell said.

Based on the fraudulent transfer transcript, university officials recently revoked the student's admission to Stanford.

"This case of fraud is a bit extreme, and very interesting," Farrell said, "because of the elaborate effort to create false documentation."

How the bogus Stanford transcript made its way to the professional school is a mystery.

Normally, a college or university is asked to send an official transcript directly to another institution as part of a student's application process. At Stanford, students also can obtain personal copies of official records. All official copies are embossed with the Stanford seal and stamped with the date and the registrar's signature.

In this case, the student requested and received a personal copy of the transcript in July 1990. The university was not asked to send a copy to the professional school.

The transcript submitted by the student to the professional school admissions office is embossed and dated Aug. 20, 1990. It contains the signature of long-time registrar Sally Mahoney. However, around that time Mahoney took a new position, and in August 1990 the signature of acting registrar Jack Farrell replaced Mahoney's on Stanford transcripts.

Comparing the student's transcript to another from Stanford, the official at the other university recognized typographic discrepancies on the date stamp and differences in the Mahoney signature. She later realized the transcript should contain the signature of Farrell rather than Mahoney.

The embossing would have required special equipment, Farrell said, adding that he is convinced it was not done at his office.

Farrell said he regrets not being able to divulge more information "because I think public humiliation is not inappropriate." He said a literal reading of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (also known as the Buckley amendment) "seems to prohibit" release of information that would personally identify the former student. Even though admission has now been revoked, the Buckley amendment's broad definition of student seems to cover the individual.

Farrell said his office answers many calls from potential employers and others seeking to confirm Stanford degrees or registration that individuals falsely claim.

"Part of our charge is to verify degrees and enrollments, and most calls are about legitimate individuals," Farrell said. "But as often as two or three times a week, we get inquiries about people whose claims are false." His office follows up if it can locate the person making the false claim, he said.

The university rescinds a degree approximately once every five years, and each case is interesting, Farrell said. It was last done several years ago at the request of an alumnus who became a born-again Christian and notified university officials that he had cheated in a number of courses.

Stanford Police Chief Marv Herrington has assigned his detective division to investigate possible violations of criminal law in the forged document case.

At the senate meeting, President Donald Kennedy acknowledged the discomfort of many senators. Several of the perplexed were scratching their heads and James Greeno, education, asked how the senate could vote when it had so little information. Kennedy suggested they were "worried about the meaninglessness of this vote, which permits no additional information beyond the fact that we trust our committee colleagues."

He said that the senate was caught between its commitment to open meetings and the Buckley amendment. The senate ought to give C-AAA "the power to lift a degree, because this conversation has added nothing on the merits [of the request], it is empty of meaning and the senate ought not to do stuff that is empty of meaning," Kennedy said.

Farrell later said he has added Kennedy's suggestion to the agenda of C-AAA's May 14 meeting.

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