Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Hiltzik . Please circulate his article widely, particularly to anyone in California, since the proper stewardship of CalPERS affects not just CalPERS beneficiaries, but California taxpayers generally.
From the top:
When the CalPERS Board of Administration comes together for its regular three-day monthly meeting starting Sept. 24, the agenda will include the annual performance review for the pension fund’s chief executive, Marcie Frost.
This won’t be any ordinary review. Or to put it bluntly, it shouldn’t be an ordinary review.
That’s because questions have been raised publicly about Frost’s educational experience. Frost doesn’t have a college degree, but that’s not the issue; it’s whether, when she was recruited and interviewed for her job, she misrepresented her enrollment in a higher education program aimed at garnering her baccalaureate and master’s degrees.
But in the announcement of her hiring, CalPERS stated that Frost was “pursuing dual bachelor’s and master’s degree in public administration from Evergreen State College” in Olympia, Wash. Evergreen is known for its unconventional approach to academics. Evergreen administrators say, however, that the college doesn’t offer a program for a “dual bachelor’s and master’s degree in public administration.”
One can get a bachelor’s degree at Evergreen, and one subsequently can apply for its master’s in public administration program, according to administrators at the school. But a single program that leads to both degrees doesn’t exist.
CalPERS officials also told me that Frost had enrolled in a “prior learning from experience” program at Evergreen, in which credits toward a degree can be earned from workplace experience. But Evergreen says that’s applicable to bachelor’s degrees only, not graduate-level programs.
Participants in the prior learning program are required to take two writing courses. CalPERS spokesman Wayne Davis says Frost enrolled in the courses in 2010 but didn’t submit any writing samples “before her career took off” in Washington and she abandoned the effort….
Davis says Frost told Heidrick & Struggles that she had enrolled at Evergreen in 2010, and still harbored the goal of receiving her diplomas. Yet if Frost inaccurately suggested at any point along the line that she was enrolled in a program that doesn’t exist, that’s a serious matter calling her integrity into question. (Even business executives with long tenures at the top and distinguished records of accomplishment have lost or given up their jobs for padding their resumes.)
CalPERS has tied itself up in knots trying to deflect concerns about Frost’s background. The fund’s communications staff say they blame themselves for any confusion. “I take accountability for what’s in that press release,” Davis says.
But that’s not an acceptable answer. It’s implausible that the communications office simply fabricated the assertion that Frost was pursuing a dual bachelor’s and master’s degree at Evergreen in 2016. More recently, the communications office has pointed a finger at Heidrick & Struggles. According to a document Webber reproduced, Heidrick & Struggles informed CalPERS in 2016 that Frost was “currently matriculated in a dual degree program” for a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Evergreen. But where did that impression come from?…
Another mystery is how the claim persisted so long in public, if it was not true. On the CalPERS website, the claim appeared on Frost’s bio page as recently as Dec. 19; the bio was subsequently revised to remove the reference. It also appeared on the archived version of the press release announcing Frost’s appointment until Tuesday, when we brought the language to CalPERS’ attention.
Hiltzik has to hew to norms of letting CalPERS have its say, his preferred tone is California understatement rather than New York “in your face”. But he makes clear that none of CalPERS defenses make sense and if anything, dig Frost’s hole deeper by showing CalPERS, after three weeks of dealing with press and beneficiary scrutiny, can’t come up with anything that dimly resembles satisfactory answers.
And as Hiltzik stresses, executives with far more impressive accomplishments than Frost’s were defenestrated for similar misrepresentations. CalPERS can’t try to offset her supposedly good performance (which we have argued also does not hold up to scrutiny) against lies told during and after she was hired.