A controversy has broken out in Washington State, as a Harvard alumna running for Congress has been accused of exaggerating her academic credentials in the closing days of the campaign.
In the Congressional race in the Evergreen State’s 8th district, Republican incumbent David G. Reichert’s campaign has challenged an assertion made by Darcy G. Burner ’96 that she received an economics degree from Harvard.
“Voters are looking for people who will be leaders on the economy, and Burner doesn’t have the qualifications so she made them up,” Mike Shields, Reichert’s campaign manager, said yesterday.
“Even by her own admission, her economics qualifications amount to five classes.”
Burner graduated from the College with a degree in computer science, specializing in economics.
But in a debate between the two candidates on Oct. 8, Burner, a Democrat, recounted receiving advice to take an economics class in college.
“I loved economics so much that I got a degree in it from Harvard,” she said.
Burner’s biography on her campaign’s Web site also states that “she earned a degree in computer science and economics” while at Harvard.
Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for the Burner campaign, said that the essence of what Burner said is true.
“This was a shorthand way of saying that she has a B.A. in computer science and a specialization in economics,” Kaushik said.
But Reichert’s campaign said that the rhetoric did not match the record.
“While I respect the education of Harvard,” Shields said, “when you’re in a global financial meltdown, voters need to know that you can handle such a crisis, and you can’t just say that you took five classes in college.”
Computer Science Professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 agreed in a phone interview that Burner did not actually have a degree in economics, but said that he did not think that it was a big deal.
Lewis pointed out that Burner took the economics courses, including macroeconomics, microeconomics, and econometrics, as the “technical electives” required in the computer science program.
“Part of this controversy is [because] the registrar does not mention the specialization,” Lewis said. “Whichever track you followed would not be recorded on the diploma or to the registrar.”
Lewis, the former dean of Harvard College, said in a follow-up e-mail that although he hadn’t heard Burner’s statement in the debate, he thought that her comment “was an understandable form of elliptical speech, given the context and the subject under discussion.”
“Based on my interactions with her, I think that she is an honest person, and I don’t have a reason to think otherwise,” Lewis said.
“If we had somebody running for Congress who had a degree in computer science and a specialization in economics, those are the qualifications I would want that person to have.”
Lewis explains the controversy in a campaign ad for Burner currently airing in the Seattle area.
Pollster.com shows Burner surging in the polls over the last few weeks—she currently leads Reichert 49 percent to 46 percent.
—Staff Writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at email@example.com.