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Originally published October 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 23, 2008 at 6:48 AM

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Burner's claim of econ degree an exaggeration

In recent weeks, congressional candidate Darcy Burner has touted her Harvard degree in economics when talking about the nation's financial crisis. But while Burner studied economics at Harvard, she doesn't have a degree in the subject.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Burner talks about degree during Oct. 8 debate

TVW.ORG | Watch the full debate

In recent weeks, congressional candidate Darcy Burner has touted her Harvard degree in economics when talking about the nation's financial crisis and her opposition to the bailout package passed by Congress.

At two debates this month, she brought up her academic background in her opening statement.

"I loved economics so much that I got a degree in it from Harvard," the Democrat said at an Oct. 10 debate at KCTS-TV. "Now everywhere I go in this district, the only thing people want to talk to me about is the economy."

She made an almost identical statement at a debate on Oct. 8.

But while Burner studied economics at Harvard, she doesn't have a degree in the subject.

She does have a bachelor's degree in computer science, the university said. And her academic transcripts show she took five economics classes, enough to earn an emphasis in economics within her computer-science degree.

Burner, who's challenging Republican Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District, said she's been upfront about her degree.

"What I have is a degree in computer science with a special field in economics," she said Wednesday. "All along we've been trying to be very, very clear."

In previous interviews with The Seattle Times, Burner's campaign spokesman was clear that Burner had a bachelor's degree in computer science and a "special field" -- more or less a minor -- in economics.

Burner's spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, said students studying computer science at Harvard are required to complete a "concentration" in a related field. Burner chose economics.

She took five semesters of economics and two math courses that counted toward economics, Kaushik said. In addition, she took eight computer-science courses and two other math classes that counted toward her degree, he said.

Her campaign Web-site biography says: "she buckled down and studied twice as hard at school, while working two or three jobs at a time, to get accepted and then put herself through Harvard, where she earned a degree in computer science and economics."

The biography her campaign submitted for The Seattle Times' online-voters guide said she had a "BA in Computer Science and Economics."

Kaushik said she claimed to have an economics degree at the debates because saying she had an emphasis within her computer-science degree "doesn't exactly flow off the tongue."

Burner said explaining that her economics emphasis wasn't technically a degree "takes a whole lot of words" and because of limited time, "every word ... mattered."

Questions about Burner's degree originated with the National Republican Congressional Committee. Burner said The Seattle Times was being "punk'd" by the Republicans, a reference to the MTV television series featuring Ashton Kutcher playing practical jokes on celebrities.

"This should be more than people playing stupid semantic gotcha games," Burner said.

The Reichert-Burner race has grown increasingly contentious recently. Wednesday, the Burner campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Reichert's recent purchase of television ads on credit was effectively an illegal corporate loan. Reichert's campaign says it did nothing improper.

Both campaigns have become more negative as they respond to each other's claims.

On Wednesday, Reichert's campaign spokeswoman called Burner's statements about her degree "outrageous."

"It calls into question everything that she has said to this point," said spokeswoman Amanda Halligan. "It demonstrates an arrogance that she thinks she can say what she wants and that no one is going to learn the truth."

Pat Dyer, Harvard's supervisor of information services in the registrar's office, said Burner's records don't list the emphasis in economics. "The only thing it shows is that she got a bachelor's degree in computer science," Dyer said.

But she said a "special field" may not show up if she got it within the computer-science department.

Harry Lewis, a Harvard computer-science professor and a former dean who oversaw the computer-science department when Burner was a student, confirmed that Burner did study economics at Harvard. She graduated in 1996.

"She doesn't have a degree in economics," he said. "It's a specialty within the computer-science degree that she has."

Burner provided to The Seattle Times copies of her academic record that show she took five economic courses.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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