Does Elon Musk have a degree in physics?

Claim:

Elon Musk has a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Classification:

True

Context

Musk has claimed on previous occasions that he received this degree in 1995, but the University of Pennsylvania says it was awarded to him in 1997.

A thread written by the Twitter account “Capitol Hunters” went viral in December 2022 when he alleged that the billionaire Elon Musk he lied about his educational background, specifically a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as his claim to attend, briefly, a Ph.D. program at Stanford. This article explores the controversy surrounding the physics major.

Musk’s statements

In his early biographies, Musk claimed that he received degrees in economics and physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995. In a 2002 SEC filing to the company PayPalFor example, Musk provided this information about his educational and professional background:

Mr. Musk co-founded Zip2 Corp. in 1995, where he served in various positions, including President, CEO and CTO from 1995 to February 1999. Mr. Musk received a BS in Physics from the University of Pennsylvania and a BS in Economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1995.

in a 2007 lawsuit Alleging that Musk stole trade secrets, Internet advertising entrepreneur John O’Reilly sued Musk over allegedly false statements Musk made to secure a business meeting with him in 1995. In that filing, O’Reilly claimed:

Musk has falsely claimed that he has a Physics degree from the University of Pennsylvania that he earned in 1995, when in fact he has no such degree and the only degree he holds was earned after that. According to information and belief, Musk’s only known college degree is a Bachelor of Science in Economics, obtained from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997.

The lawsuit, which ended with a sentence on Musk’s behalf, entered into the public record copies of Musk’s diplomas. These documents were later used in a 2009 lawsuit filed by Tesla founder Martin Eberhard who accused Musk of “taking control of the company.” [Tesla]orchestrating his departure in 2007 and attempting to ‘rewrite history’ to take credit for developing the pioneering electric Roadster that the two men worked together to create.”

the case was solved Outside court, but Musk spoke about his educational background during a statement required by this case. Musk, in that case, was wrong about when he actually received these titles.

Q. It’s okay. So you received a BS in computational physics from Penn?
musk: yes

[…]

Musk: Actually, you should be clear about that. So, I obtained the degree of Bachelor of Business Sciences and Physics but [had] an agreement with the .. University of Pennsylvania. They said he could have… He could complete the English and History credit when he was no longer a student at Stanford. So they would delay the broadcast of the title until I had done it.”

This explanation also appears in an early edition of a Musk biography written by reporter Ashlee Vance. Vance was unable to confirm the specific academic chronology in early Musk biographies. In an appendageHowever, Vance explained his research on the subject, including Musk’s explanation of the discrepancy in dates and grades:

While playing detective, O’Reilly uncovered information about Musk’s past that is arguably more interesting than the allegations in the lawsuit. He found that the University of Pennsylvania awarded Musk’s degrees in 1997, two years after Musk cited. I called the Penn registrar and verified these findings. Copies of Musk’s records show that he received a double major in economics and physics in May 1997.

Musk…had an explanation for the strange timing in his Penn titles. “I had a history credit and an English credit that I agreed with Penn that I would do at Stanford,” he said. “Then I put Stanford on hold. Later, Penn’s requirements changed so you don’t need the English and history credit. So they awarded me the degree in ’97 when it was clear I wasn’t going to graduate school, and your requirement was no longer there.”

“I finished everything it took to get a degree from Wharton in 1994. In fact, a degree from Wharton was mailed to me. I decided to spend another year and finished my degree in physics, but then there was the issue of History credits and English I was just reminded about History and English when I tried to get an H-1B visa and called the school to get a copy of my graduation certificate and they said I hadn’t graduated then they reviewed the new requirements and said it was good.”

The explanations for the delay in granting titles are not entirely consistent, Capitol Hunters Twitter account notedand that account has also called into question the existence of “new requirements” in history and English that would have made it easier for Musk to earn a degree after the fact.

Penn Documentation and Statements

Another area of ​​controversy concerns the appearance and nature of the physics major, specifically. Certificates of an economics degree from Penn and a presumed degree in physics are included in documents filed as part of the O’Reilly and Eberhard lawsuits. While the economics diploma presented as evidence specifically indicates the academic discipline, name, and other details involved in the degree, the physics diploma appears to be a largely blank diploma and does not indicate a specific concentration:

(@CapitolHunters)

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania describes Musk as a student. In 2009, the same year the dispute with Eberhard was litigated, Musk awarded Penn’s Center for Particle Cosmology a “generous endowmentAllowing for an annual “Elon Musk Public Lecture”:

Elon Musk’s Public Lecture is made possible by a generous grant made to the Center for Particle Cosmology in 2009, its inaugural year. Mr. Musk is an alumnus of the Penn Department of Physics and Astronomy and a proud advocate of preparing physics education for many different careers.

In 2019, Aaron Greenspan, owner of the legal website Plainsite, as well as a frequent critical of and litigator against Elon Musk, asked Penn for a statement about Musk’s titles. In replythe university’s public affairs office stated that:

Elon Musk earned a BS in Physics and a BS in Economics (Concentrations: Finance and Business Management) from the University of Pennsylvania. The titles were awarded on May 19, 1997.

The bottom line

The University of Pennsylvania considers Musk to have graduated from both the economics department and the physics department. However, Musk’s previous statements about his educational background have been imprecise at best. He has repeatedly claimed that he received a degree in physics in 1995, a claim that was never entirely true, but may have helped Musk launch his business career.

Sources:

APPENDIX 1: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (2017). https://publicism.info/biography/elon_musk/14.html. Accessed December 21, 2022.

Capitol Hunters. “Someone has to say it: Elon Musk has lied for 27 years about his credentials.” Twitter, https://twitter.com/capitolhunters/status/1593307541932474368. Accessed December 21, 2022.

Martin Eberhard against Elon Musk and others. https://www.plainsite.org/dockets/3cberzj42/superior-court-of-california-county-of-san-mateo/martin-eberhard-v-elon-musk-et-al/. Accessed December 21, 2022.

“O’REILLY v. MUSK | No. H034863. | 20100928061 | Leagle.Com”. Leagle, https://www.leagle.com/decision/incaco20100928061. Accessed December 21, 2022.

O’Reilly v. Musk, No. H035288 | Case text search + Citation. https://casetext.com/case/oreilly-v-musk-1. Accessed December 21, 2022.

Tesla investor is latest to sue Elon Musk for defamation over tweet – Law360. https://www.law360.com/articles/1275973/tesla-investor-latest-to-sue-elon-musk-for-libel-by-tweet. Accessed December 21, 2022.

Yarow, Jay. “Tesla Settles Lawsuit: All Are Founders”. Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/tesla-founders-end-bitter-legal-fight-2009-9. Accessed December 21, 2022.

https://www.plainsite.org/documents/tbdmox/2019-email-from-the-university-of-pennsylvania-confirming-elon-musks-physics-degree/. Accessed December 21, 2022.

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