Schools

In Malden, some question whether superintendent really holds a doctorate

Superintendent Ligia Noriega-Murphy has so far not provided proof of her doctorate, despite saying she holds one.

Malden Superintendent Ligia Noriega-Murphy in 2018, when she worked for Boston Public Schools. ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Questions have swirled in Malden lately over whether first-year Malden schools Superintendent Ligia Noriega-Murphy indeed holds the doctorate she says she earned nearly a decade ago but has so far not offered proof of receiving.

Noriega-Murphy began using the title “Dr.” this year on school communications, but withheld her doctorate on her resume last year — an omission that means the credential was not verified during her hiring process, according to The Boston Globe.

As a result, some parents and community members have since started asking questions about the superintendent’s integrity.

“All of this smacks of someone who doesn’t want to be accountable,” a local parent, Bruce Friedman, who was among the first people to raise questions last month, told the Globe. “What kind of example is she setting for students?”

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Noriega-Murphy, who previously spent over 25 years in Boston Public Schools, told the newspaper she holds a doctorate in urban leadership education from the University of Salamanca in Spain.

Her resume indicates she spent summers in Salamanca between 1994 and 1998 and was in Boston for each school year.

Her doctorate title was used in academic papers, news articles, and BPS communications dating back to 2015, according to the Globe.

She told the newspaper her doctorate, which she acquired in 2013, is under a “previous married name,” but declined to state that name due to a prenuptial agreement requiring she “not use the family name to gain any financial or personal ‘profit’ by name association.”

Her ex-husband was a member of an affluent Spanish family and paid for the degree issued to her, though under his name, Noriega-Murphy told the publication. The degree does not have her first name on it and she did not want to provide her ex-spouse’s surname, according to the newspaper.

“In the subsequent divorce decree, I agreed that I would not publicize or rely on the advanced degree that I earned while using his last name. There were financial implications if I violated the prenuptial agreement and the divorce decree,” she said in a statement.

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Reached by Boston.com on Friday, Noriega-Murphy, in an email, declined to discuss the matter, citing her previous statement.

“I am in the process of getting my paperwork ready to present to my employer,” she wrote.

According to the Globe, Noriega-Murphy did not include her degree on her resume because it was not required for the superintendent position and due to a “legal thing” with her ex-husband, who died earlier this year, she said.

Noriega-Murphy said she has requested her Spanish advocate retrieve the documentation, which she should have before school begins this fall, the Globe reports.

She did not respond when the newspaper asked why the legal arrangement did not prohibit her from informing School Committee members she held a doctorate.

However, José María Hernández Díaz, the coordinator of the education doctoral program at the University of Salamanca, told the Globe there is no program for urban education leadership at the institution and that it would be “impossible” for a doctoral candidate to complete coursework during summer months.

Díaz could not be reached for comment on Friday. The office of Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, who serves as chairperson of the School Committee, also did not immediately respond to a media request.

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Malden’s superintendent search was conducted by UMass Boston’s Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management, according to the Globe. Because the doctorate was not listed on Noriega-Murphy’s resume, the center did not verify it.

“There was nothing to validate. She never claimed having the degree,” Michael Ward, the center’s director, told the newspaper.

Noriega-Murphy has said she believes the questioning of her credentials stems from the city’s teachers union.

Earlier this month, the union overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence against the superintendent, which the union said was in response to her failure to communicate with teachers and staff before announcing 63 layoffs last month.

There have also been several incidents in which the union claims the schools chief attempted to make changes that require union input under the terms of their contract.

“These attacks must be seen in the context of ongoing negotiations between the Committee and the Union” and “my ‘outsider’ status in Malden,” Noriega-Murphy wrote to the Globe.

Noriega-Murphy has gained support from some residents, who say the questioning is xenophobic and sexist. The superintendent is originally from Guatemala and speaks with an accent, the newspaper reports.

“It always seems a little funny when a woman of color is questioned about her credentials,” Malden School Committee member Keith Bernard said, according to the Globe.

The superintendent holds a certificate of advanced graduate study from UMass Boston, two master’s degrees in education and management from Cambridge College, and a bachelor’s degree in art history from UMass Boston, according to the Globe.

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