Tara Reade, who last year accused presidential candidate Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993, is locked in a battle with the New York Times and other outlets over their portrayal of her educational and professional background. Reade, through an attorney, has demanded a correction or clarification over the media’s claims that she lied about having a college degree from Antioch University in Seattle, her undergraduate institution. Letters have also been sent to the Washington Post, the Associated Press, CNN, and Politico. The Times and other outlets who have responded are standing by their reporting.
“We believe our story is accurate,” said Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy.
To prove her case, Reade, through an attorney, obtained a cache of records from her college and law school, which were provided to the Times as well as other members of the media, including The Intercept. The question of whether she graduated from the college where she later served on the faculty is complicated. The documents do make it clear, however, that the story Reade told of her graduation — that it was handled in a unique, private way due to her domestic violence-related legal name change — is consistent with the records in her file.
Last year, twin claims — that Reade had not graduated college and had not been a member of the faculty at Antioch — were major blows to Reade’s reputation. The claims, widely repeated in the press, were sourced to an Antioch spokesperson and prompted the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office to launch a probe into whether Reade had lied about the degree or her employment in court. (The probe has since been concluded with no charges filed.) The reporting also led Seattle University School of Law, where she graduated from law school, to threaten to rescind her law degree unless she could produce a transcript from her undergraduate years.
“[Reade] attended but did not graduate from Antioch University. She was never a faculty member. She did provide several hours of administrative work,” Karen Hamilton, an Antioch spokesperson, told CNN in May.
CNN also reported that Reade claimed “she received a bachelor of arts degree from Antioch University in Seattle under the auspices of a ‘protected program,’ personally working with the former president of the school to ensure her identity was protected while she obtained credits for her degree.” The outlet added: “An Antioch University official told CNN that such a ‘protected program’ does not exist and never has.”
The New York Times dialed up the charge, writing about her time in law school:
She was so poor she had to borrow law books and occasionally brought her daughter to class when she couldn’t find child care. Her classmate Jenifer Robinson, who now practices law in Seattle, recalled her “heavy, dark sadness” and said it “appeared to be a real, genuine fear and was a huge part of her identity.”
She also harbored a secret. She had never obtained the undergraduate degree required for law school admission.
The claim that Reade “harbored a secret” is unusual for the Times, as the paper often tells readers that while it can describe actions, it can’t penetrate the thoughts of its subjects in order to know whether they are lying. The Times story not only claimed that Reade hadn’t graduated but also that Reade knew she had not graduated, casting doubt on Reade’s explanation: that there was an arrangement between her college and law school that was connected to a protected program for domestic violence victims.
The Post, meanwhile, did not go as far as the Times. In its response to Reade, the paper noted that the university publicly claimed Reade had not graduated, and the Post merely reported the discrepancy between Reade’s claim and the one made by her school. Indeed, the university said much the same to The Intercept in a request for comment, though the sharpness of the original response — that she “did not graduate from Antioch University” — is shaded a bit. “Based on our records, Ms. Reade was not conferred an undergraduate degree by our institution,” said Rebecca Todd, the university’s general counsel.
Like much else with Reade, who has led a life the New York Times described in its headline as a “tumultuous journey,” her undergraduate and law school files are complicated and difficult to untangle. In 1998, Reade received what’s known as a Tarasoff warning, according to court documents. Under California law, confidentiality agreements can and must be breached by officials such as social workers or therapists if they come upon information that a person’s life is in imminent danger. Reade’s former husband’s probation officer issued one such warning, and local police alerted Reade that she and her daughter were in danger. Reade, through a program run by the Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center, moved to Seattle, where she was transferred to the organization New Beginnings, traveling through a network of domestic violence shelters. The mother and daughter received judicially sealed name changes and new Social Security numbers.
In September 2000, under the name Alexandra McCabe, Reade enrolled in Antioch University Seattle’s bachelor’s degree completion program. Reade had, to that point, attended at least four colleges: Cuesta College, Long Beach City College, Pasadena City College, and UC Santa Barbara. Antioch University Seattle operates on a quarter system rather than standard semesters, so after converting, she had earned nine quarter credits at Cuesta, 13.5 at Long Beach City, 60 at Pasadena, and 13.5 at UC Santa Barbara, for a total of 96 quarter credits that were qualified to be transferred to Antioch University Seattle, according to her transcripts.
The completion program required 180 quarter credits for a degree, including a minimum of 36 credits in residence. At the time, Antioch allowed for up to 60 credits to be earned based on life experience, and Reade’s time as an aide on Capitol Hill and in the California legislature easily qualified. Adding those would give her 156 quarter credits toward the 180 needed, meaning she was just 24 short when she entered Antioch’s program — though she still needed to complete a full 36 at Antioch to meet the residency requirement. To convert the life experience into course credit, students at Antioch worked with members of the faculty to demonstrate what they learned from the experience (Reade later served as one of those affiliate faculty evaluators). In the fall, she took the first course in that direction, according to her transcript, titled “Learning from Life Experience.”
Documents show she completed the first draft of the project needed for the life experience credits. “Alexandra’s draft prior learning package clearly demonstrates her well developed critical thinking and writing skills,” reads the note from evaluator Candace Harris. “She brings a wealth of information and experience with her to the completion of her liberal studies education and this knowledge will contribute significantly to her degree.”
Reade’s attorney provided both an official transcript from Antioch as well as one that had been produced in 2007 for a credit report. The official transcript lists 35 completed credits, one short of the 36 residency credits needed. The second transcript includes two courses, worth seven credits between them, marked as “IN” for incomplete. In other words: To graduate, Reade would have needed to complete one of those two courses and also finish her life experience project. Her claim that she completed the project and Antioch’s records are flawed is buttressed by the fact that the college later hired her to evaluate other student projects, but neither Reade nor Antioch have retained or could produce a record of it. The nonofficial transcript projects a December 2001 graduation date.
Reade applied to Seattle University School of Law’s Alternative Admission Program in January 2001. In March, University of California official Delores O’Brien, an expert in the field of domestic violence, provided the law school with an affidavit. “Due to the consequences of domestic violence and the related fear, Alexandra’s records are not available. Thank you for keeping her safety at the forefront of your rules and expectations,” O’Brien wrote in an affidavit and letter of recommendation reviewed by The Intercept. The affidavit was received in March 2001 and confirms Reade’s assertion that her name change implicated her records, but it also testifies that Reade had graduated, which was not yet true; Reade says she completed all her coursework and met the requirements to graduate later that spring and that it was her understanding that Antioch conveyed this privately to the law school.
Reade began law school classes that summer, but that fall, she got a letter putting her registration on hold, as the registrar observed there was no final transcript from Antioch in her file. Donna Deming, associate dean for student affairs at Seattle University School of Law, then emailed Deann Ketchum, the law school’s associate registrar. “I wanted to let you know that we waived the requirement that Ms. McCabe furnish us with an official transcript,” she wrote.
There should be a memo in the file to that effect. If there is not, please let me know and I will write one explaining the circumstances as to why we will not receive an official transcript. I should tell you that in making this decision, Dean [Rudolph] Hasl was consulted. Would you please take whatever steps are necessary to clear her record regarding the receipt of a transcript.
The email from Deming to Ketchum was found in Reade’s law school files and provided upon request to Reade’s lawyer, but the memo Deming said she would write, laying out the specifics of how the affair was settled, is not. Reade’s lawyer provided a copy of the email to The Intercept.
Also in the file is further evidence of Hasl’s involvement. An email from Reade to Deming in February 2001 begins, “As per our meeting with Dean Hasl I had Dr. O’Brien mail an affidavit.” O’Brien has since died. The documents Reade’s attorney provided to the media also include a statement from Reade’s friend, Carson Marshall, who recalled waiting outside the rooms as Reade met separately with Antioch’s academic dean and president to sort out her records. Marshall later went on to work for Antioch.
Ketchum, the law school associate registrar, replied to Deming with an email that was also provided to Reade’s attorney and to the media. “I did not see a memo in Ms. McCabe’s file to this effect, but will be sure to include a copy of this e-mail for future reference. She should not receive any additional correspondence regarding this matter, nor will she be at risk for having a hold placed on her account. I will be sure to flag her record with the appropriate code.”
If Reade met the requirements, why would there be no degree in her file? Reade claims the inability to link all of her credits given her change in name and Social Security number meant that a normal file wasn’t possible, and she understood that the agreement between the schools was a facsimile for a degree.
There appears to be enough documentation to complicate the Times’s claim that she was deliberately lying about her degree, but her case against the other outlets is not as strong, as they only reported that Antioch claimed she hadn’t graduated, and Reade claimed she had — a discrepancy that remains alive.
Antioch’s claim that Reade was lying about having served on the school’s faculty is flimsier. And on that matter, Antioch has backed off. Previously, an Antioch spokesperson told reporters, “She was never a faculty member. She did provide several hours of administrative work.” The university, in a statement it has recently provided to an attorney for Reade, Lara Hruska, now acknowledges that Reade “worked for Antioch University as a Prior Learning Evaluator in 2008, 2009, and 2010.”
The statement stops short of acknowledging that Reade’s position made her a faculty member, but Antioch has been quite explicit that this position is indeed part of the faculty. A 2006 form letter, obtained by Reade’s attorney, spells it out: “It is our practice to extend to persons who provide evaluator services a courtesy appointment to our faculty—so that, in this case, you become an affiliate faculty member in leadership and liberal studies.”
The letter, signed by the academic dean, goes on: “It is my hope that you will see this appointment as an expression, if a non-material one, of the importance of your contribution to our continuing work.”
That such a role qualified as faculty is confirmed by two other Antioch documents. “Affiliate faculty members perform defined tasks related to student learning for a specified period in a manner prescribed by the University,” reads the school’s “Faculty Classifications” document from the time, which was also provided by her attorney. An Antioch official, Carson Marshall, Reade’s friend from her time in undergrad, worked with the program while Reade was an evaluator and provided a statement to Reade’s attorney further validating Reade’s claims. “Several years after her graduation from law school, Tara was hired temporarily and part-time by Antioch University Seattle as affiliate faculty. She conducted prior learning evaluation for students seeking credit in areas related to her academic areas of expertise,” Marshall said in the statement. “I do know she worked multiple terms, but I couldn’t say how many.”
The school’s course catalog from around that time similarly described such evaluators as faculty, saying that students “must document and demonstrate their learning to qualified evaluators, who may be regular members of the Antioch faculty or outside professionals who serve, for this purpose, as affiliate faculty.”
The attorney who contacted the media outlets on Reade’s behalf, Moshe Admon, said that he didn’t include a request to clarify that error, considering it below the level of defamation. “I did not reference the provably false statement that Tara was not a faculty member at Antioch because I do not feel that the claim rises to the necessary level of defamation and does not have the same harm as claiming she lied on her law school application and as a witness under oath,” Moshe said.
The questions over Reade’s graduation and her service on the faculty are linked. In order to graduate, Reade would have needed to complete her life development project. Documents confirm a first draft was produced, but the record stops cold. Yet it is hard to imagine Antioch, just a few years later, hiring her as a faculty member to evaluate such student projects if she had not completed her own. Reade said she did complete her project and believes the confusion around her final months is related to the missing documents.
It is also plausible that following the conversations between Antioch and Seattle University Law School, there remained loose ends to tie up that were never taken care of. Either way, the New York Times’s confidence in its assertion that Reade knew she had not graduated appears misplaced. More appropriate may be a version of the assessment made by Times columnist Michelle Goldberg of the more significant Reade charge: “It would be easier to know what to do with Tara Reade’s accusation that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her if her tale were more solid, or if it were less.”