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Scandal Widens Over False Academic Credentials

by Lee Hwan-hee, The Korea Times, Aug 19, 2007

Seoul, South Korea -- When it was revealed last month that Shin Jeong-ah, then an art history professor at Dongguk University, fabricated her academic credentials, the nation was shocked at how she was allowed go so far in her career without being caught.

<< Ven. Jigwang

Now a month later, false academic credentials among cultural figures has become a trend.

Since just Friday, three more names have been added to the growing list; actress Jang Mi-hee; Ven. Jigwang, a Buddhist monk; and actress Oh Mi-hee.

Jang's claim of being a Dongguk University graduate was put in doubt Friday when the school announced that it had no record of her graduation. She could lose her job as a professor at Myongji College if she is found out to have been lying.

Ven. Jigwang admitted Saturday that he has been lying about having dropped out of Seoul National University; he explained it as having started from false information in a resume created for his first job, as a newspaper reporter. In a press conference Saturday, he said "Because of the huge problem that false academic credentials are creating for the society today, I thought that I have to get over my dishonesty.''

Actress Oh Mi-hee Sunday also admitted that she has lied about her educational past. She has said that she graduated from Cheongju University when in fact she dropped out without a degree.

Between the time when Shin got caught and this past Friday, the number of people embroiled in scandals about false academic credentials is almost absurd: among them, actor-director Shim Hyung-rae; Dankook University professor Kim Ock-rang; and theater actress Yoon Suk-hwa are the most prominent.

It is not difficult to speculate that behind the phenomenon is the prestige that Korean society at large places on one's educational background, since most of the cases can be explained as such.

But the examples of dishonesty are overwhelmingly concentrated within the arts. Could there be a more specific reason for the correlation?

Many in the business blame the fact that there is not enough job security within the arts industry unless one becomes an academic. While the worth of an artist is certainly in his or her work or performance, the temptation to enter academia by fabricating one's background is almost irresistible, not just because it gives a prestigious and stable job, but also because the fabrication itself is relatively easy, due to the specialized, and sometimes esoteric, nature of various arts.

Also, it is highly likely that the current slew of revelations would not have been possible without the ease with which personal information can be retrieved over the internet. An artist, or a celebrity's personal information, including his or her educational background, is only one click away from being obtained, and with the mob mentality of trying to find out the next liar the task becomes too easy.

A more objectionable aspect to this phenomenon, though, is that the schools, too, may have participated in the charades. There have been allegations that some schools knew only too well that the people in question have not graduated but have kept silent till now because of the publicity that the association brings.

Still, lying is a matter of personal morality, and most of the confessors begged for forgiveness, including Ven. Jigwang. He said, "I have no feeling other than contrition.''

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