Author Greg Mortenson could lose honorary UW Bothell degree

BOTHELL — Author Greg Mortenson could be stripped of an honorary degree he received in June 2008 from the University of Washington’s Bothell campus.

The university’s chancellor convened a committee Wednesday to discuss Mortenson after a “60 Minutes” report aired Sunday. The report alleges that Mortenson fabricated parts of the best-selling book, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time.” Also included were claims that Mortenson mismanaged donations to the Central Asia Institute, his nonprofit organization.

Mortenson was invited by Chancellor Kenyon Chan to be the speaker at the UW Bothell commencement ceremonies, spokesman Bill Hayes said. The university paid $3,000 that year to his charity.

Mortenson’s book that he co-wrote with David Oliver Relin in 2006 tells how in September 1993 he tried and failed to reach the summit of K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Mortenson wrote that he became lost on his way down Baltoro Glacier and received care at the farming village of Korphe in northeastern Pakistan. His experience in the village began his campaign to build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The “60 Minutes” report and an online book, “Three Cups of Deceit,” by author and onetime supporter, Jon Krakauer, claim that story and others in the book, including Mortenson’s tale of being kidnapped by the Taliban, aren’t true.

Hayes said the committee is expected to review the reports and make recommendations to the university president and Board of Regents within 60 days. Taking away Mortenson’s honorary doctorate of letters from the university is “within the realm of possibilities,” he said.

“It’s pretty abnormal to have something like this happen at all,” Hayes said.

Mortenson’s most recent appearance in the state was on March 28 at Gonzaga University in Spokane. He also spoke on March 1 at R.A. Long High School in Longview and on Jan. 27 at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon. That visit included a free lecture for elementary students held at Mount Vernon High School.

Mortenson’s message was inspiring and included the importance of local community service, said Carl Young, director of the Skagit Valley College Foundation.

“It was a very positive message,” he said. “I’m saddened that even the questions have been raised but my own sense is this has weeks if not months to play out until we know what the real facts are.”

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; adaybert@heraldnet.com.

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