Terrence Howard Lies about having a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering on Jimmy Kimmel Live
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
Terrence Howard may be respected as an Academy Award nominated actor who has played the likes of Ray Charles, Nelson Mandela, and even a pimp, however he should not be recognized for one role he claims: Chemical Engineer. On Tuesday February 26th, 2013, Howard appeared as the headlining guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show on the ABC network. Halfway through his first segment, Mr. Howard announced he received a doctorate in Chemical Engineering from South Carolina State University this year. Kimmel pressed Howard for details, asking when he had time to earn a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. The guest responded by saying when he was fired from the Ironman franchise, he “had a lot of time on [his] hands.” Howard then stated more specifically that South Carolina State University gave him a doctorate in Applied Materials and Chemical Engineering. This impressed and surprised Kimmel who spent the next minute and a half speaking to Howard about synthetic diamonds, a long period of time to wax on technical subjects such as chemical vapor deposition techniques with a late-night audience. Unbeknownst to Kimmel, Howard committed some serious technical gaffes by repeatedly claiming that diamonds will replace silicone in computer chips to better “handle heat dispensation [sic].” In fact, he should have said silicon and heat dissipation. He also incorrectly stated that Moore’s Law says “we should double in technology every six months.” The statement and the ambiguous use of the word “technology” should have been replaced with “the number of components/transistors on integrated circuits doubling every two years.”
Terrence Howard does have some background in Chemical Engineering, though a weak one at best. In an interview with Blackfilm.com in July 2005, Mr. Howard claimed “I am engineer” and that he attended the Pratt Institute in New York City. He admits he convinced Admissions to give him a special entrance exam since he did not feel his GPA was sufficient to be accepted under the usual criteria. Later in the interview he clarified that he was 3 credit hours short of his Chemical Engineering degree. Barry Koltnow in a story written in March 2007 stated that Howard attended Pratt for 2 years, but did not complete his degree due television acting opportunities. Now, Howard has claimed that in 2013 he earned a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, without having completed an undergraduate degree. Clearly his statements were not completely lining up.
On March 4, 2013 Rachel Brown, the Records Management Assistant at Pratt Institute’s Registrar’s Office retrieved the records on Mr. Howard and confirmed that he attended Pratt for about a year: September 1990 through May or June of 1991. Though Pratt’s engineering program ended in 1993, they did offer Chemical Engineering degrees while Howard was in attendance. She confirmed that he was enrolled as a Chemical Engineering student, but he did not complete his degree. Howard’s claim to the interviewer on Blackfilm.com that he was “three credit hours short” of his degree is a dubious claim considering most students don’t even start on their core chemical engineering courses until after the first year.
According to South Carolina State University’s website, graduate degrees in Chemical Engineering or Applied Materials are not offered. This was confirmed by Dean Barbara Adams, Interim Associate Vice President for Faculty and Programs. In fact, students cannot earn Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. degrees in either of these subjects. South Carolina State does not have a department for these subjects; the closest analog to these disciplines would be their undergraduate program in Industrial and Electrical Engineering and their Chemistry, Biology, and Physics undergraduate degrees. It seems unlikely that a University with no Chemical Engineering program would create a degree for a student, even if he is an individual of high visibility.
The confusion regarding the type of degree conferred to Howard might have stemmed from a Commencement address he gave at South Carolina State University May 4, 2012. After his talk, he was awarded the only honorary degree that year. He was given a Doctor of Humane Letters, as Colin Powell was the previous year at the same school. Between one and eight individuals earn such degrees every year at SCSU and they are usually awarded a Doctor of -Humane Letters, -Laws, -Fine Arts, or -Public Service degree. Howard being awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters was recognized by the Post and Courier newspaper as well as on the school’s website. On March 5, 2012, The Public Relations Department at SCSU privately confirmed through email that Howard was awarded the honorary degree at last year’s ceremony, but he did not attend the school, did not earn a degree through thesis work, and did not receive a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering or Applied Materials and Chemical Engineering. This was corroborated also by Dean Adams, who officially conferred his honorary degree during the commencement ceremony last year. A search through the library records confirmed that Howard did not write a thesis and has no publications. However, the school has not offered a public press release correcting Howard’s claim to having earned a technical degree.
According to Stanford University and the University of Michigan, typically a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering requires an undergraduate degree, usually in the same subject or one similar, 1-3 years of graduate coursework, and several years of technical research and thesis writing. The entire process takes approximately 9 or more years after earning a high school diploma. Being admitted to a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. program usually requires an undergraduate degree with a high GPA and research experience or publications. Completing a Ph.D. requires passing a battery of challenging graduate level core Chemical Engineering courses, completing at least 1 major research project under the supervision of a faculty advisor, and successfully passing a qualifying exam, Preliminary oral and/or written exam, and a final Defense. It’s meant to be a challenging process, easily filtering out those who are not qualified or sufficiently focused.
Lying about earning a Ph.D. in engineering essentially in between making movies may seem like fair game to some people. Howard has called himself an engineer after completing only one year of college and he considers an honorary Letters degree equivalent to writing and defending a thesis in a technical field. Perhaps the benefit of impressing millions of people on national television must outweigh the risk of someone discovering his lie and asking for a retraction? While this may appear to be just some celebrity on late-night television trivializing the Chemical Engineering profession, it more significantly underscores a cardinal difference between practicing engineers and non-engineers: credibility. Impersonating a professional engineer is a serious offense - a misdemeanor in most states. Many people every year end up in jail and pay stiff fines when they claim they have the knowledge and experience of an engineer. This is why Chemical Engineers are held to several Codes of Ethics, specifically stating that professionals should “perform services only in their areas of competence” and “engineers shall not falsify their qualifications or permit misrepresentation of their [own] qualifactions.” An individual that mocks, impersonates, or trivializes an engineering profession attempts to minimize the credibility of all of those who legitimately earn degrees, work and practice in the field, and behave responsibly.