UPDATED: Dispute Over a Candidate’s Cornell University Pedigree Flares in Mercer Island City Council Race as Election Nears

[Developments occurring since this story was published can be found here.]

[Story note: Since our story was first published on Monday, the Cornell University media relations department has reasserted that the school has no record that Joy Langley either attended or graduated from the university. The official also stated that the registrar’s office has not been in contact with Langley. The story has been edited to include these details where appropriate.]

If there is a hierarchy in the universe of alumni – and there is – earning the right to call yourself a Cornell University graduate puts you in the higher tiers. The achievement is prestigious, coveted and can be a door-opener to coveted leadership opportunities in business, government, and politics.

It makes sense then why candidate for Mercer Island City Council Joy Langley chose to engrave membership in the Cornell alumni into her voter pamphlet statement and on her campaign website. Even a letter from key endorsers name-drops Cornell in the sweet spot of their pitch to island voters.

There’s just one question that continues to nag a group of Islanders – did Langley really earn a degree from Cornell?

A controversy about the veracity of her Cornell claim has roiled below the surface for weeks and broke into a very public boil Monday as the details of allegations that she did not earn a Cornell degree – and statements from the candidate – were reported in the Mercer Island Reporter.

The Northwest Daily Marker attempted to gather clear facts to defuse suspicions, but what we found failed to put the questions completely to rest.

Last week, the Marker submitted a request for records through National Student Clearinghouse, the website that Cornell University contracts with for degree ownership verification. The result of was that clearinghouse could not verify any degrees earned at Cornell by Langley.

On Monday, Langley told the Reporter that the lack of information available through the clearinghouse was because she had chosen to keep her student records private. (Note: The Reporter endorsed Langley.)

The Marker then reached out directly to the Cornell University Registrar, and our inquiry was forwarded to a senior media relations official.  On Monday, after checking with the registrar’s office, the official stated the university has “no record of anyone by that name attending or receiving a degree from Cornell University.” In a follow-up email, the same media relations official re-confirmed as follows:

Cornell University has no record of a person named Joy Langley or Joy Esther Langley attending or graduating from this institution.

Langley also told the Reporter that she plans to produce more information, but that her records were in a form of bureaucratic lockdown.

Langley said she would request her transcripts as proof of enrollment at Cornell, but was told that a freeze had been placed on the documents…

It’s unclear who at Cornell informed Langley of the “freeze” on her records.

“The Office of the University Registrar has likewise received no request from, nor engaged in any correspondence or conversation with, Ms. Langley on this matter,” the Cornell media relations official wrote.

The Marker asked a spokesperson for Langley’s campaign if the candidate would ask the university to make her records available. The campaign did not respond, and instead referred us to the Cornell Registrar’s website and a page on privacy laws.

In another email obtained by the Marker, the media relations official states that his staff has not received any inquiries from the Mercer Island Reporter. From the Reporter article:

The Reporter is still working to independently verify Langley’s credentials. Questions about Langley’s degree are being fielded through Cornell’s office of media relations.

As of now, the only documentation Langley has provided to the Marker has been a link to a photo posted to a back page on Langley’s website. Inset into the larger image is a small photo of a Cornell diploma that does bear Langley’s name and the date of May 30, 2004.

Langley also published to her campaign website a statement responding to the accusations, and suggesting that her opponent tacitly approved of “negative attacks” and “character assassination.”

According to Langley, her undergraduate credits were split between Ithaca College and Cornell University and earned her two separate degrees. From the Reporter:

“I entered Cornell as a sophomore due to AP credits (Sage School, Arts and Sciences) and concurrently enrolled at Ithaca College (Humanities and Sciences),” [Langley] responded. “I was able to graduate in four years with a degree from each institution.”

An exhaustive search was unable to find any online footprints corresponding to Langley and Cornell University, while a substantial amount of ephemera tying her to Ithaca College was easy to find.

As a student at Ithaca College, Langley was a college athlete and a participant in student government. Her name appears in contemporary blurbs about Ithaca’s women’s crew team. In another digital artifact – the April 11, 2002 edition of the Ithaca College student newspaper “The Ithacan” – Langley is mentioned as being an Ithaca sophomore and a member of Solidaridad, a student government party that “used titles of spokesperson rather than traditional titles of president and vice president” to refer to its leadership. The Ithacan reports that Solidaridad was disqualified from fielding candidates in the 2002-2003 student elections, though a reason for the disqualification is not given.

In real and political terms, Mercer Island occupies valuable ground. Interstate 90 connects Mercer Island by bridge to ultra-liberal and solidly Democratic Seattle to the west and a more moderate, Republican-ish Bellevue to the east. It is a home for many wealthier Seattle expats who have been drawn to its slower pace, neighborhood feel, and strong community support for excellent K-12 education.

Those who follow the Mercer City Council note that it has maintained a delicate political balance despite pressures within its changing voter base. The seat Langley is hoping to win is a part of that balance.

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3 Comments

  1. Mary Smith

    The Cornell student newspaper just ran a story that she did not attend Cornell, and is not in their yearbook.

  2. The only solution to this degree question for the voters of MI and reporters who cover elections and endorse candidates = http://www.candidateverification.org

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