Kara Swisher

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Yahoo’s Response on CEO’s Computer Science ResumeGate: “Inadvertent Error”

A Yahoo spokesperson just confirmed as accurate allegations from an activist shareholder Dan Loeb of Third Point that its CEO Scott Thompson did not have a computer science degree from Stonehill College as claimed on his bio and also in regulatory filings.

He does not, a mistake that the Silicon Valley Internet giant is calling an “inadvertent error.”

Except this is a mistake that goes back more than a half-dozen years, as it is also on the Web site bio at eBay, where he served as president of its PayPal payments unit and its CTO before that.

(Update: Yahoo just removed the line about Thompson’s college degrees from his Web site bio entirely.)

While Yahoo sought to underplay the controversy, it could become a serious issue for Yahoo, both from a credibility and regulatory compliance issue.

It would also call into question — as Loeb does in the letter — the amount of vetting done by Yahoo on the CEO choice, which was conducted by board member Patti Hart.

It gets worse: Loeb also alleged that Hart changed her degree from Illinois State College from business administration to a loftier economics and marketing. And Yahoo admitted it was so, noting the director had a business administration degree, with a specialty in economics and marketing — whatever that means.

But, incompetent vetting by Hart aside, it is how and why Thompson changed his resume that will be at issue.

Here’s one fact that is true: Thompson only has an accounting degree from Stonehill College, near Boston, which he attended from 1975 to 1979.

(Second Update: Stonehill also confirmed that Thompson’s degree was only a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration (Accounting).)

Here is, in fact, a screenshot of an alumni newsletter when Thompson got the job at Yahoo earlier this year:

Despite the mistake, however it was made and which presumably serves to burnish Thompson’s tech cred, Yahoo said in a statement that it does not diminish his qualifications to lead the tech company.

Said the statement in full:

“Scott Thompson’s degree at Stonehill College was in bachelor science in accounting. There was an inadvertent error that stated Mr. Thompson also holds a degree in computer science. This, in no way, alters that fact that Mr. Thompson is a highly qualified executive with a successful track record leading large consumer technology companies. Under Mr. Thompson’s leadership, Yahoo! is moving forward to grow the company and drive shareholder value.”

Here’s the definition of inadvertent, for those who don’t know:

1. failing to act carefully or considerately; inattentive
2. resulting from heedless action; unintentional inadvertently

I’d say it’s going to turn out to be a lot more than that, but we’ll see what the board of Yahoo and, ultimately, shareholders, have to say.

(And, ironically, just yesterday Yahoo wrote a letter to shareholders claiming that Loeb did not have “relevant” expertise to be on its board. Turns out, he’s definitely pretty good at vetting.)

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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post