A third case of padding?

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Questions have also surfaced about Cunliffe’s time at Harvard in the 1990s.

Cunliffe left the foreign service to pursue his studies after winning a coveted Fulbright Scholarship.

Cunliffe said this morning that he spent some time studying at both departments.

“I hold a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School,” he explained.

“It’s a flexible course, almost half of which was studied at the Harvard Business School, some at Harvard Law School, and some at the Kennedy School.

“To my knowledge, no CV that I’ve put out has claimed that I hold an MBA [Masters of Business Administration] from Harvard Business School. I’ve always said I hold an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, sometimes called the John F Kennedy School.”

A biography posted on the Labour party website until recently said: “He was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School, where he graduated with a Master of Public Administration.”

That clearly implies the MPA is from both the School of Government and the Harvard Business School. If you do a couple of law papers as part of your commerce degree you don’t claim to have a degree from the faculty of commerce and faculty of law.

His CV has been widely interpreted as meaning he was as the Harvard Business School. Just a few days ago Stuff reported:

His first posting was Canberra. Washington DC followed. He left the foreign service after eight years, winning a Fulbright Scholarship to Harvard’s School of Business.

So the number of exaggerated or padded claims is now around half a dozen. Three or four around community and union activities, one around Fonterra and this one around Harvard Business School.

The silly thing is Cunliffe doesn’t need to exaggerate. He has a CV that is superior to probably every single one of his colleagues.  Working for Boston Consulting Group is a huge achievement, regardless of whether or not to claim to have helped form Fonterra. Likewise a Fulbright Scholarship to Harvard’s JF School of Government is a huge achievement without implying you also graduated from Harvard Business School.

But there is a clear pattern of padding or exaggeration. This is not uncommon with job seekers, but politicians need to be much more careful. I know one MP who would e-mail a newspaper when they claimed he or she had a qualification they didn’t yet have. They did this even though the mistake was 100% the newspapers and not in any way based on what their CV stated, or anything they had said. This is a degree of prudence that would be wise for to have followed.

The article also deals more with the Fonterra claims:

This morning he provided documents to Fairfax Media which show he carried out work for the Dairy Board in the late-1990s. It appears on the electronic records under the new client name Fonterra Co-operative Group.

His timesheets, from BCG, show he worked on a number of projects including “industry structure” from October 1997 to January 1999.

Hooton refused to apologise.

He doesn’t want to get into a prolonged argument with Cunliffe, but said: “I just don’t think that doing a paper on research and development in the dairy industry can be described as helping with the formation of Fonterra.

“He obviously thinks that the paper he wrote … was in some way crucial to the creation of the company but I don’t think it would be a view shared by the industry leaders who lead the creation of Fonterra in 2000/2001.”

There is no doubt Cunliffe did work for BCG on the dairy industry structure. As I understand it there was eight hours of work in 1999 and around a month’s work in 1997 on industry structure. Whether or not it is fair to claim that was helping with the formation of a company some years later is more than debatable. My views is that it is not false, but again a pattern of padding or exaggeration. Just like claiming to have worked for a City Mission on a CV, when you did a couple of small things for someone who did something for them 20 years ago.

Aaron Gilmore had similiar issues with his CV a couple of years ago. That generated not just a couple of stories with Fairfax, but a total of 26 stories in different mediums, and Gilmore was just an obscure backbencher – not an aspirant Prime Minister. In both cases I don’t think there was any deliberate attempt to mislead, just a desire to sound more impressive.

As I said at the beginning, David Cunliffe’s record in business and academia is impressive enough on its own. It doesn’t need padding.

On Monday the website was refreshed. The biography now reads: “He held a Fulbright Scholarship at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government in 1994-1995, earning a Master of Public Administration.”

In hindsight I think David Cunliffe would agree that would have been the better wording to use all along. Harvard Business School is more globally impressive and known that the JFK School of Government, but the JFK School of Government degree is impressive in its own right.

UPDATE: There has been a huge amount of reporting (never corrected) over the claim to have studied or graduated from Harvard Business School:

And this cache of his Facebook page:

I was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School, where I graduated with a Master of Public Administration.

UPDATE2: Whale has some questions about how the BCG timesheets in 1997 were using the name Fonterra, when the name was only devised and used in 2001.

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