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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 20, 2003

Disclosed secret turns into lesson

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The lessons learned in school sometimes go far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.

Just such a lesson occurred on the Chaminade University campus over the last few weeks as a prominent and well-liked dean faced up to a secret that had haunted her for 22 years.

Joy Bouey, dean of Enrollment Management, a woman who has almost doubled enrollment on the Catholic Marianist campus during seven years in the position, walked into President Sue Wesselkamper's office and admitted she didn't have the Ph.D. she had put on her resume 22 years before.

She offered an apology, and her resignation.

It was a defining moment wrought of sleepless nights and dark thoughts, and, ultimately, the realization that she couldn't run away from herself.

It was also a defining moment for Wesselkamper — and the university at large.

Faced with a situation she had seen only once before in her 25 years of college teaching and administrating, Wesselkamper turned not to punishment but to justice meted out with compassion.

"I wish life were black and white, but it's not," Wesselkamper said. "There are things that are very important, but at the same time there's recognition that people make mistakes and they're held accountable and it's done with compassion and reasonableness."

And she hopes students will understand that standing up and making amends for a mistake can be one of life's most courageous moments.

The irony, Wesselkamper said, is that Bouey's job never required a Ph.D.

Wesselkamper refused the resignation and instead called Bouey a woman of integrity for coming forward. And she launched a review of policies covering staff credentials. Academic credentials for Chaminade faculty are verified through transcripts, staff credentials review has been less rigorous.

Barmak Nassirian, a policy analyst with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said there are no easy answers for such a situation.

"Someone who fraudulently practices medicine without the appropriate credentials would face criminal prosecution and possible jail time," Nassirian said. "Someone who was in fact a doctoral candidate, and who, in good faith but perhaps with a little too much optimism, might have put the expected Ph.D. on her résumé would not — and should not — face the same consequences."

As part of making amends, Wesselkamper required that Bouey's secret be shared with the Chaminade community, and the president revealed it at a staff retreat in January. Bouey subsequently stood up, apologized and cried when the 70-person group rose and applauded.

"I just didn't expect it," she said. "They're a very loving and supportive group ... It's a Catholic university and they're very forgiving."

Bouey had completed the coursework for a Ph.D., but never finished her dissertation because of a disagreement with her adviser over her findings, she said. When she moved to Hawai'i and took a job at Chaminade, she was planning to revise the paper, but never completed the process.

A distraught Bouey said her secret has led to a 30-pound weight loss over the past year and given her years of sleepless nights. "I've been trying to take care of this for 20 years, and I just never had the nerve to do it," she said. "It gets bigger and bigger and one day you just can't handle it anymore."