A version of this story first ran in the Mercer Island Reporter.
According to her candidate statement for the Nov. 7 general election, Mercer Island City Council candidate Joy Langley hopes to address transportation impacts, residential codes, public safety, and budget deficits if elected. She has experience in government affairs and volunteers in the community. She earned a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Cornell.
But a group of Islanders, who have supported her opponent, Tom Acker, are questioning Langley’s educational credentials. Langley strongly disputes their claims, resulting in an emotionally-charged controversy on the island in the days leading up to the election.
After a weeklong investigation, the Mercer Island Reporter finally obtained a statement from Cornell University. The school does not have a record of Langley’s degree, it said.
“After receiving numerous inquiries and speaking directly with Ms. Langley, Cornell University re-examined its digital and paper archives, at the university and college level, and can confirm that we have no record of a person named Joy Langley or Joy Esther Langley attending or graduating from this institution,” John Carberry, Cornell’s senior director of media relations, wrote in an email on Nov. 1. “We can also confirm that the Office of the University Registrar has never received a request to make private any records related to Ms. Langley.”
Langley told the Reporter that her degree could not be independently verified through avenues like the National Student Clearinghouse because she chose to keep her student records private. She said on Wednesday morning that she had decided to seal her records and protect her information because a fellow student had stalked her while she attended Cornell.
“I think that in this environment where there are women who are emboldened to come forward, I think this is an important time to come forward with that. My records were sealed. I should not be in the National Student Clearinghouse. I opted out because it was a very scary time for me,” she said. “That’s the reason why the records are sealed so tightly, that’s the reason why I’m not entirely eager to crack them open again. And that’s the reason why the university has had such a hard time extricating them… I have been on the phone with the registrar. I have faxed over my diploma to them. I really do hope this just puts things to rest.”
The Reporter notified Langley about Carberry’s statement on Wednesday evening. She said she was “very confused” and “shocked,” and would continue searching for her records.
Cornell’s registrar and office of media relations were contacted multiple times over the past week by the Reporter, Langley, and other Islanders seeking proof of Langley’s credentials, some of whom graduated from Cornell and initially brought concerns about “degree irregularities” to the Reporter on Oct. 24.
Langley provided a photocopy of her diploma to the Reporter on Oct. 26 and posted it, along with other academic credentials and awards, to her website at www.ElectJoy.com. She also posted a statement.
She said she was notified on Nov. 1 that the registrar’s office at Cornell could not locate her transcripts, which she previously said were frozen because “someone claiming to be a prospective employer wanted access to [her] academic records.”
Campaign flyers endorsing Langley stated that she “got dual degrees in Philosophy and Political Science from Cornell,” but her politics degree is from nearby Ithaca College. That can be verified, along with her master’s degree in political management from George Washington University. Ithaca offers an exchange program with Cornell, but Langley said she earned full degrees from both institutions.
She said by using a combination of credit from internships, AP courses, independent study, and online matriculation—as well as taking the maximum amount of credits allowed each semester—she completed the degree requirements at Ithaca and Cornell in four years. She said she left the Ithaca degree off of her candidate statement due to the word count restriction.
Langley initially denounced the allegations as “negative attacks on character” as a campaign tactic instead of focusing on the issues.
“American politics is a rough business. As we all know, we just got over the most negative presidential election in history,” she said in a statement to the Reporter on Oct. 30. “I (some would say naively) had hoped that the tone and discourse of this city council race would be different. But the attacks in the last week have changed that tone.”
In her statement, Langley said that she will stand for “better discourse based on policy and issues” and not for “degrad[ing] the conversation with innuendos, hearsay, falsehoods and accusations.”
“On Mercer Island’s City Council I will represent this community with the same transparency and integrity that I have brought to my campaign,” she stated. “Attempts at character assassination do not honor our past nor build towards our future. Tolerance of such behavior diminishes who we are and prevents us from moving forward to create solutions for the real challenges ahead.”
Her opponent, Tom Acker, seemed to agree when called for a statement.
“We are running a positive campaign focused on the issues,” Acker said. “We believe our campaign will win on our knowledge of the issues and validated business experience. Ms. Langley has provided a copy of her degree and it should be accepted as documentation. Any further conversation is unproductive.”
Langley said she earned a Cornell diploma “after a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
“I don’t know what else to do,” Langley said. “It seems like I disappeared; it doesn’t make sense to me. I was handed a diploma on the 30th of May [in 2004]. The only thing I can chalk it up to is the university must have lost my materials.”
Langley said she will reach out to her supporters and explain the situation.
“I have no motivation to lie about it,” she said. “I’ve got the [bachelor’s degree] and the masters — why would I have gone backwards and done something like this?”