By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Wednesday, May 22nd, the Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, responded via Twitter to the accusation that he had falsely claimed to have studied at Harvard.
“Today, I interrupted my work as governor to clarify a lie about my academic background,” announced Witzel.
“According to the press, I have included false information on my resume, claiming to have earned a doctorate from Harvard,” he continued, before going on to state that “the plan to study at Harvard was made before the election and therefore had to be stopped.”
However, when asked by O Globo about Witzel’s supposed plan to attend Harvard – which is a possibility through his doctorate – the Universidade Federal Fluminense UFF stated that the governor never even expressed interest in participating in the selection process for the prestigious American university. That didn’t stop him from adding the information to his “Lattes” academic record.
This latest slip-up doesn’t come as much of a surprise to many Brazilian commentators, who have been busy collating the staggering list of politicians recently caught misrepresenting their academic or professional records.
One of the most prominent members of the Bolsonaro cabinet to be caught claiming false credentials from another American University was Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles. The Intercept revealed in February that he had used the title “Master of Public Law at Yale” when signing an article in 2012.
When contacted, Yale stated they were unaware of his attendance, leaving Salles to tweet in response to this report: “The information of 2012 was mistranslated, by a misunderstanding of some advice. In any case, since then, it has always been corrected.”
Damares Alves, Bolsonaro’s Minister for Human Rights, Family and Women is another member of the government to find herself in trouble when subjected to scrutiny as a cabinet official. She had been declaring herself “Master in Education, and Constitutional and Family Law,” but when questioned by Folha de S.Paulo about the provenance of her master’s degree, she responded that she was a master “in the sense that they are all masters who interpret the Bible.”
Both former Minister of Education, Ricardo Vélez Rodriguez, and his successor, Abraham Weintraub, are also accused by news magazine Exame of the slightly less ignominious charges of “forgetting” to credit co-authors of their academic research and self-plagiarizing, respectively.
It must be stated that while this list of culprits is long for a government so new to power, these embarrassments are not limited to the current administration. Dilma Rousseff was famously caught in 2009 calling herself a “Master in Economics” at Unicamp without having submitted a required dissertation.
Former Defence Minister and UN Ambassador Celso Amorim also falsely claimed to have a doctorate from the London School of Economics, while only having taken some classes there.
However, as Flávio Moura in Epoca points out, while Rousseff and Amorim seem to have been caught out trying to inflate their academic achievements, it is even more puzzling why Witzel and the new Bolsonaro administration – who are fiercely anti-intellectual – want to boast about their doctorates. He states: “Why do they wish to adopt a title which the government they serve despises?”