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A Professor Without Her Claimed Degrees

September 16, 2008

Lan-Lan Wang has had a distinguished career in academic dance. She's founded dance companies. She was one of the first American modern dancers to perform in China after the Cultural Revolution, and she promoted numerous exchanges with China. She won grants from top foundations. She taught at the University of Iowa and the University of California at Los Angeles and, since 1994, at Connecticut College, serving for much of that time as department chair. She may never have earned a degree -- although she claimed two.

And what's certain is that she did not earn either of the two degrees she claimed -- a bachelor's and master's from the University of Iowa. As a result, she quit her position as professor and interim chair, Connecticut College announced Monday.

“Institutional integrity is of paramount importance to Connecticut College, and so I have accepted her resignation," said Roger Brooks, dean of the faculty, in an e-mail to students and professors. "I am deeply saddened because she has contributed so much to the college over many years. Lan-Lan Wang’s accomplishments in dance are very real."

A spokeswoman for the college said that an associate dean at Connecticut received an e-mail that raised questions about Wang's credentials, and that the college then investigated and "acted accordingly."

A spokeswoman for Iowa confirmed Monday that Wang never earned any degrees there, although she worked there from 1980 to 1990, in a series of positions, including program assistant, project director, and visiting assistant professor. Iowa officials said that they could not determine whether, at the time Wang worked there, she led them to believe that she had a college degree.

Angelia Leung, associate professor of choreography and dance education at UCLA, said the circumstances of Wang's departure from Connecticut were "shocking." Leung and Wang worked together at UCLA.

Leung said that she didn't remember if Wang claimed at that time to have degrees from the University of Iowa, and that "we didn't necessarily check on these kinds of things." The irony, she said, is that for positions in performance-related fields such as dance, UCLA and many other universities do some hiring based on candidates' artistic experience -- and that Wang could have been hired without a degree.

While some arts departments indeed do hire professors who lack the degrees of their colleagues in other departments, claiming degrees you haven't earned is viewed by many (appropriately so) as a career killer in academe. Quincy Troupe, a noted poet, quit his faculty job at the University of California at San Diego in 2002 after it was revealed that he lacked the college degree he claimed. He was discovered after he was named California's poet laureate and the honor resulted in a background check.

Also in 2002, Rev. Eugene R. Kole quit as president of Quincy University, in Illinois, after The Herald-Whig reported that he had never earned two master's degree that had been listed in his biography when he became president and in university publications. Last year, admissions officers nationwide were shocked when a leader in their field -- Marilee Jones -- quit as dean at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after confirming that she had claimed degrees she never earned.

For Connecticut College's dance department, long considered a strong program nationally, Monday "was a very sad day," said David Dorfman, a professor who called off a planned sabbatical for this semester after he was drafted to become chair in the wake of Wang's resignation. He described his former colleague as "incredibly energetic, someone who inspired students and gave them a lot of time and knowledge." He said she was especially known for her "very rigorous modern dance technique class."

Dorfman and other professors met with 75 students Monday afternoon to talk about what had happened. "We're a very close department," he said, adding that the discussions should remain private. "It was quite intense and complicated and it just can't be summed up."

 

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