Darcy Burner's claims of a Harvard econ degree an exaggeration
Congressional candidate Darcy Burner has touted her Harvard University degree in economics during her campaign for the 8th Congressional District seat against Rep. Dave Reichert. But while Burner took some economics classes at Harvard, her degree is in computer science and not economics.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Watch Burner comment on Harvard degree
During an Oct. 8 debate sponsored by The Seattle CityClub and The Seattle Times, Darcy Burner stated that she earned a degree in economics. Watch Burner make the claim in the video below.
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In recent weeks, Democratic 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," she 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."
But while she took courses in economics, Burner doesn't have a degree in the subject from Harvard.
She does have a bachelor's degree in computer science, the university said. And her academic transcripts show she took five economics courses, enough to earn an emphasis in economics within her computer science degree.
Burner said in a phone interview today that she's been upfront about her degree.
"What I have is a degree in computer science with a special field in economics," she said. "All along we've been trying to be very, very clear."
In previous interviews with The Seattle Times, Burner's campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, has been clear that Burner had a bachelor's degree in computer science and a "special field" — more or less a minor — in economics.
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.
Pat Dyer, Harvard's supervisor of information services in the registrar's office, said Burner's records don't list the emphasis in economics. 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 former dean of the school, confirmed that Burner did study economics at Harvard.
"She doesn't have a degree in economics," he said. "It's a specialty within the computer science degree that she has."
Burner, who is challenging Republican Congressman Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District, provided to The Seattle Times copies of her academic record that shows she took five economic courses.
Burner said she had an economics degree at two debates, the one on Oct. 10 and one on Oct. 8 in Bellevue.
Her campaign Web site biography says: "she buckled down and studied twice as hard at school, while working two or three jobs at time, to get accepted and then put herself through Harvard, where she earned a degree in computer science and economics."
Kaushik said Burner claimed to have a degree in economics at the debates because saying she had an emphasis within her computer science degree "doesn't exactly flow off the tongue."
Asked whether having an emphasis in economics is the same as a degree in economics, he said, "No ... it's a concentration within a degree."
Reichert's campaign called Burner's statements about her degree "outrageous."
"It calls into question everything that she has said to this point," said Amanda Halligan, a spokeswoman for the Reichert campaign. "It demonstrates an arrogance that she thinks she can say what she wants and that no one is going to learn the truth."
Burner has been accused of inflating her résumé before. In her first run for Congress in 2006, her campaign Web site briefly described her as "a Microsoft executive." She was a middle manager at Microsoft.
Burner said today that a staff member made that error.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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