Heinz dean resigns amid diploma debacle

The dean of the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management resigned Friday after a Heinz School faculty member discovered a questionable master’s degree was awarded during his tenure.

Mark Wessel’s resignation was formally accepted by Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon and Provost Mark Kamlet Friday, Aug. 15, and announced the same day to Heinz School students, faculty, and staff via e-mail. On Monday, Aug. 18, President Cohon announced his appointment of Ramayya Krishnan as acting dean of the Heinz School.

Melissa Lawrie, a second-year master’s student in public policy and management in the Heinz School, was unsatisfied by the Heinz School e-mail.

“There wasn’t much of an explanation. I’m sure there was more to it than we were told; I don’t think the university would’ve reacted the way they did otherwise,” she said.

Some Heinz School faculty members expressed confidence in the swift action taken by Carnegie Mellon and Wessel.

“I have absolute faith that Dr. Cohon and the Carnegie Mellon administration have taken the proper action and steps to resolve the issue,” said Jerry Coltin, director of the Heinz School’s Master of Arts Management program.

A Carnegie Mellon press release cited the reason for Wessel’s sudden resignation as an “error in judgment involving the approval of excessive transfer credits and excessive units for independent study in lieu of coursework” in the awarding of a master’s degree to a student in 2004. The university declined to state to what degree the student, whose identity has not been released by the university due to federal privacy laws, exceeded the 12 transfer credits and 12 independent study units allowable for Heinz School graduate students.

According to Ken Walters of Carnegie Mellon Media Relations, a faculty member (who the university declines to name) was alerted to the degree in question earlier this year.

“The faculty member followed up by requesting the student’s records, which showed that the student had excessive transfer and independent study units,” Walters said. “President Cohon was notified on August 13 and then there was an immediate review of the situation.”

The offices of the general counsel and campus affairs will further investigate the case, according to a Carnegie Mellon press release. The university will review the status of that student’s degree. While Walters said this was an isolated case, a committee will be formed to audit all Heinz School degrees from the past five years.

Wessel, who has been a part of the Heinz School since 1993 and was named dean in 2004, declined to comment. He remains a lecturer on the Heinz School faculty, but will not teach this fall.

The unearned degree at Carnegie Mellon comes in the wake of scandals at West Virginia University and Virginia Commonwealth University, where journalists exposed a governor’s daughter and a former police chief, respectively, who were awarded unearned degrees. At both universities, top officials were forced to resign.

Some professors were shocked by Wessel’s resignation.

“I think it was unnecessary for Mark [Wessel] to resign under these circumstances,” commented Denise Rousseau, a professor of organizational behavior and public policy for the Heinz School. “There is no evidence of any ethical issue here, in contrast to the UWV [University of West Virginia] case.”

Marie Coleman, executive director of the Heinz School’s Washington, D.C. office, felt Wessel’s resignation was a mark of his willingness to take responsibility.

“Mark really put himself on the chopping block and I admire him even more for his courage to admit a mistake and then take full responsibility. That is a leader,” she said.

Cohon’s appointment of Krishnan, the new acting dean of the Heinz School, has proved to be a far less controversial decision. Faculty, students, and administrators alike have noted their confidence in Krishnan, the William W. and Ruth F. Cooper Professor of Management Science and Information Systems.

“Krishnan is an excellent scholar, teacher, and colleague, and is one of the key reasons that the Heinz School now has one of the world’s best information systems groups,” said Ashish Arora, a professor in the Heinz School.

Krishnan received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, and both a graduate degree in industrial engineering and operations research and a Ph.D. in management science and information systems from the University of Texas at Austin. He has received the Teaching Award for the Heinz College’s IT programs twice.

In an e-mail sent out to Heinz faculty, staff and students last Monday, Provost Kamlet spoke highly of Krishnan, noting his scholarship in information systems and in public policy and dedication to the Heinz school.

Krishnan, who faces the challenge of entering an appointed deanship merely one week before the start of a new school year, is willing and ready to lead.

“I think its an important time in the life of the school — we are in the midst of the school transitioning into to a college, and we also have 500 students showing up on Monday — so I absolutely need to help the school with this transition and to move forward,” Krishnan said.

Krishnan’s only comment on Wessel’s resignation looked to the future of the Heinz School: “It’s an unexpected turn of events, certainly, but I think the Heinz School is a very a fundamentally strong organization, very entrepreneurial. I’ve been here 20 years — I know we’re a resilient organization and we’re going to move forward.”