Enrique Peñalosa has been lying about his doctorate for the past 35 years
Juana Afanador @juanaafanador1
Carlos Carrillo @CarlosCarrilloA
Last year Enrique Peñalosa was re-elected mayor of Bogota, Colombia. He is not only a key figure in Colombian politics, but also an international urbanism rock star. Since the beginning of his public career he has claimed that he was not a good politician, but a manager; someone with the technical experience to administrate the city. However, it now seems that he has been lying for over three decades.
Initial suspicion relating to Peñalosa’s doctorate occurs when one considers the astonishing speed of his accomplishment. According to most of his biographers, he moved to Paris in 1977, and by 1980 was back in Bogota working in a very modest farm growing tomatoes. There’s no doubt that there has been some exceptional researchers, but it is not very plausible for anyone to attain both a Master’s degree and a Doctorate within just three years.
A PhD, at least in theory, requires a high level of academic achievement and should therefore be available to future researchers. In France, the systematization process for doctoral theses is quite good, and they can easily be found at www.sudoc.abes.fr. We were unable to find any thesis by Enrique Peñalosa, but we did find the thesis of his Transportation Secretary: Juan P. Bocarejo, defended on December 5, 2008 entitled Évaluation économique de l’impact des politiques publiques liées à la mobilité : les cas de Paris, Londres, Bogotá et Santiago.
Since the thesis does not appear on the SUDOC website, our next step was to review the catalogue of the university’s library where the doctorate took place. This resulted in another fruitless search as the Panthéon-Assas does not feature any thesis written by Enrique Peñalosa. So we then decided to write to the institution in order to get some verification about the existence of this increasingly elusive doctorate.
The reply we received raised even more questions. The Director of Comunication, when asked about Dr. Peñalosa and his thesis of Public Administration, informed us that the Panthéon-Assas does not have a PhD in Public Administration. If the student, Enrique Peñalosa, had actually completed his thesis on that subject, it would have been under the guidance of either the Law or Political Science departments.
The university also suggested that the program undertaken by Mr. Peñalosa may not have been a doctorate at all, but another kind of course, for which no thesis would have to had been written.
The Internet is full of CVs and profiles about the life and work of the Mayor, with virtually all of the media in Colombia stating that Mr. Peñalosa holds a Doctorate degree in Public Administration from the University of Paris II. Important international institutions where he has worked, such as the ITDP and NYU, state the same, while his Wikipedia profile agrees. (Wikipedia used the term “PhD”, to be more specific). Could it be that hundreds of respectable sources are simply wrong?
The straight answer is yes. This is most likely due to the fact that the lie came directly from the Mayor himself. Enrique Peñalosa comes from a very well known family in Colombian politics, his father was minister, diplomat, ambassador at the UN, etc., so he was probably unquestioned on his return from Paris, claiming that he held a doctorate. The lie; like is so often the case, possibly gained credence by repetition. His election as mayor served to consolidate his reputation and after the huge early success of the TransMilenio (Bogota’s BRT) he quickly became a world-recognized lecturer on urban planning. Who on earth could doubt this brilliant urbanist? If he claims he’s a PhD, then he’s a PhD. Full stop.
The flaps of his books (published during the late 80’s) boldly declare that he holds a Doctorate in Public Administration. But curiously in some official documents, such as his CV for the Bogota Chamber of Commerce or for the Australian Cyclists Party he does not mention a Doctorate but instead a “DESS” from the University of Paris.
A DESS (Diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées) is a Bac + 5, which in the French system means that you have studied for five years after school. This does not qualify as a doctorate by any stretch of the imagination. It is neither a doctorate under the terms of the francophone countries nor the Anglo-Saxons. The DESS has never been a PhD and the Bologna Declaration in 1999 did not change its status. The level of a DESS can be found in the Article D612-34 of the French Education Code. (see above)
If Mr. Peñalosa has in fact completed his studies at the University of Paris II, at best, he would only have received a specialization certification for one year of study without a thesis.
This is a very serious issue; he has not only lied to Colombia for the past 35 years, but also to the international community. He has built an enormous reputation, traveling the world and deeply influencing the public policies of hundreds of cities. Sadly it seems, it has all been constructed upon a base of ambiguity and dishonesty.
Some more examples: