This story was updated on at 5:40 p.m. on Nov. 1 to reflect continued conversations with Joy Langley and Cornell’s office of media relations.
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.
Al Lippert, a Cornell alum who donated $100 to Acker’s campaign in 2015 according to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), sent the Reporter several emails and documents, asking for an investigation after trying unsuccessfully to confirm her degree from his alma mater.
In response, Langley presented a photocopy of her Cornell diploma to the Reporter on Oct. 26, after retrieving it from her childhood home in Yakima, and forwarded emails from the Cornell Club of Western Washington.
“This is an example of what I receive as an active, engaged alum on a very frequent basis,” she wrote.
She has called the allegations “negative attacks on character.”
“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.”
A letter signed by five Mercer Island mayors, Fred Jarrett, Elliot Newman, Judy Clibborn, Alan Merkle and Bruce Bassett, endorsing Langley states that she “got dual degrees in Philosophy and Political Science from Cornell.” Newman, Clibborn and Bassett each donated $100 to Langley’s campaign.
According to records requested from the National Student Clearinghouse by Robin Russell, the communications lead for Concerned Citizens for Mercer Island Parks (CCMIP), Langley earned a bachelor’s degree in politics from Ithaca College — a nearby school that offers an exchange program with Cornell — in 2004. Russell donated $200 to Acker’s campaign this year, according to the PDC.
Langley’s Cornell degree could not be verified using the same method of record request, Russell said.
“For one who is so proud of her Cornell degree(s) as to only refer to them in ALL of her campaign materials including the voters pamphlet and several endorsement letters it is quite odd and frankly disturbing that absolutely nothing shows up for Cornell,” Russell wrote in an email to the Reporter.
Lippert was also unsatisfied with the Cornell Club emails as evidence.
“Anyone who enrolls apparently makes one eligible to join the alumni association and gets solicitation letters,” Lippert wrote in an email to the Reporter.
Langley 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 both institutions in four years. She said she left the Ithaca degree off of her candidate statement due to the word count restriction.
The Reporter also received emails from other Islanders, including Russell, Meg Lippert, Jackie Dunbar, Rob Dunbabin and Carv Zwingle, about the “degree irregularities.” All are involved in the CCMIP group.
Al Lippert emailed Langley on Oct. 19 to ask about her Cornell experience.
“I entered Cornell as a sophomore due to AP credits (Sage School, Arts and Sciences) and concurrently enrolled at Ithaca College (Humanities and Sciences),” she responded. “I was able to graduate in four years with a degree from each institution.”
Russell said she and other Islanders have been calling the registrar’s office at Cornell to obtain proof of Langley’s degree, and said the registrar told them she did not earn one there. However, the registrar told the Reporter that that type of information is not disclosed over the phone.
Langley said she would request her transcripts as proof of enrollment at Cornell, but was told that a freeze had been placed on the documents because someone posing as her prospective employer was calling the university to obtain them.
Langley posted photos of her degrees and other academic awards on her website.
“We quickly put up all my academic credentials on my website (at ElectJoy.com),” Langley stated. “That should have been the end of it. But it hasn’t been. They continue to comment on neighborhood blogs that this campaign is hiding something. We aren’t.”
On her website, Langley writes that she is “an unabashed supporter of the Arts and of MICA [Mercer Island Center for the Arts],” which has been a controversial issue in the community due to its planned location in the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park.
CCMIP has been publicly opposed to the location, initiating three petition attempts to block it, and has also expressed concerns about MICA’s financial solvency.
Langley said she believes that MICA would be a “huge benefit for the community,” and is committed to finding the best location for it.
“What truly matters is that there be a productive partnership between the city and MICA, not only on site selection but throughout the process of building an amazing Arts Center that will serve our community, our kids and our seniors, on this island,” Langley writes on her website.
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.”
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’s full statement can be found on her website.
Langley told the Reporter that the National Student Clearinghouse did not confirm whether she had a degree from Cornell because she chose to keep her student records private.
Cornell’s official statement as of Oct. 31, issued by John Carberry, senior director of media relations, is that: “Cornell University has no record of a person named Joy Langley or Joy Esther Langley attending or graduating from this institution.”
The Reporter is still working to independently investigate Langley’s credentials. Questions about Langley’s degree are being fielded through Cornell’s office of media relations. See www.cornell.edu for more.