In 2016, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) hired Marcie Frost, the former director of the Washington Department of Labor & Industries, as its new CEO. Since the time of her appointment, Calpers is about to have it third CFO and a series of top executives have left. Calpers has 77% of what it needs to provide for future retirement benefits.
In addition, what has emerged are questions about Ms. Frost’s educational background. When she was appointed, the press release said that she was pursuing a dual degree at Evergreen State College in Olympia. However, a blog contacted the college and she was not enrolled. Ms. Frost was confronted at a staff meeting about how she had presented he educational credentials.
Ms. Frost explained that she had been honest during the interview process and disclosed that she did not have a college degree. The search firm Heidrick & Struggles had prepared a document on her background and described her as being “currently matriculated in a dual degree program” at Evergreen. That document was used as the basis for the press release on her hiring.
In fairness to Ms. Frost, she has had an amazing 30-year career, including a successful tenure as director of the Washington fund, keeping funding at 86% and standing up to the governor on combining government benefit units. She was a teen mom who worked her way up through the ranks in state government and stands on those credentials.
However, the issue is candor. Saying you have a degree when you do not is a common hiring deception. Trying to de-emphasize the lack of a degree with current enrollment is a typical cover. Being confident enough in your work experience that the lack of a degree is overcome gives candidates the chance to explain the life story — and Ms. Frost has a compelling one.
Unfortunately, with Calpers’ hiring processes now under investigation and the taint of the press release, Ms. Frost is at the center of the resulting turmoil. And all because of the use of the words “enrolled” and “matriculated.” Being a public pension beneficiary, the Barometer prefers someone sans degree who is willing to reduce the assumed rate of return to 7% and aims for 86% funding as CEO. Enrollment at this point in a successful 30-year career is largely irrelevant — the problem is whether that point was made during her interviews and clear to the board members who hired her. That goes to Ms. Frost’s ethics and may be behind the struggle she faces with turnover and staff.