The fake diploma scandal just a small degree of an iceberg

By Chen Weihua China Daily
Updated: 2010-07-13 00:00
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NEW YORK — With former Microsoft China president Tang Jun in the spotlight not for his business savviness, but for alleged fake doctorate diplomas, many officials and business executives may want to revise their resumes now.

News reports show this is happening quietly on Wikipedia and in publishing houses over the past few days.

First and foremost among these should be Tang’s Chinese alumni at the Pacific Western University, widely known as a diploma mill.

Of course, Tang and his alumni, some holding prominent positions, could choose to describe how rigorous their study was at Pacific Western. They could even call up their alma mater professors as witnesses to their hard work. But this is unlikely to happen.

If Tang, now president and CEO of Xin Hua Du Industrial Group Co, is as smart as he appears to be in the business world, he should opt to tell the truth as soon as possible, instead of fighting a doomed battle with Fang Zhouzi, who exposed his sham.

Fang, a crusader of fraud in academia and public sector, accused Tang of writing in his book My Success Could Be Duplicated that he received a doctoral degree in computer science from the California Institute of Technology.

Fang said he checked the names of CIT graduates and failed to find Tang’s name. After Tang responded that he graduated from Pacific Western University, Fang said the US government closed the university in 2006 for selling degrees.

Tang may soon realize that people are not so angry at his forgery of education background, a mistake he made years ago, as they are outraged by his continued refusal to speak the truth.

In a society where degrees are faked and bought by the millions by officials and businessmen, Tang may well ask: “Why me?”

The answer is clear: The wrongs of many others do not justify his misdeed. This is especially true for someone who likes to tout himself publicly as a role model for aspiring younger generation.

Equally astounding are some Tang supporters, who argue it is OK for him to make such a mistake as long as his business success is real and admiring.

This is a reflection of moral degradation in our society, where integrity often becomes secondary compared to economic interests in judging individuals.

Integrity is crucial for every government official and business leader. Otherwise, why should the public trust the institutions and corporations they represent?

Tang is getting excessive heat, simply because of his fame as China’s highest paid professional manager and many other laurels. Also, anger at the flooding of fake diplomas and crooked businessmen and officials has finally found an outlet in this case.

Those who bought diplomas may also want to vent their anger at Tang for revealing their little secrets. They did not go to any class, do any homework and write papers. Nevertheless, they received a doctorate or master’s degree by paying off the schools, or even some fake diploma peddlers. And now their careers are at risk because of Tang.

Tang’s case should be the start of a crusade on fake and watered-down academic degrees. Statistics show that in just 30 years, China has achieved a great leap forward, overtaking the United States as the country with the most number of education institutions granting PhDs as well as the largest number of doctoral students enrolled each year.

To some extent this is like saying the country as a whole has become somewhat a diploma mill. About half of the PhD graduates these years are working for government departments, where higher academic degrees help them climb the bureaucratic ladders.

If there is an overheated sector, it is not the red-hot property market, but our educational system that is supplying the country with excessive number of mediocre master’s and PhD graduates.

The crusade on fake or watered-down academic degrees is vital to restore the trust and credibility that is increasingly lacking in our society. It should not stop at Tang Jun.