Shin also a victim of our societyShin Jeong-ah, the former professor who had claimed to be a graduate of Yale University before being fired from Dongguk University, arrived in New York on July 17.
Korean correspondents, informed about her arrival, waited for her at the airport. Questions poured out. Shin, her cap pulled low and wearing glasses, closed her mouth tight. And then she said, “I have nothing to say to the media, which put a plagiarized thesis down to a high school graduate.”
The scene was televised all day. Although I am not a psychologist, I think her statement completely revealed her distorted way of thinking. The plagiarism of a thesis is clearly a crime. But Shin seemed to be more ashamed of her downgraded educational background than of the fact that she had committed crimes such as plagiarism and forging her credentials. A great number of high school graduates or less educated people who faithfully pay their taxes and observe the laws in our country would be dumbfounded to hear her. There are lots of less educated, yet great people, around me, too. So I’d like to say some words to Shin: Building character comes before building an educational background.
Last week, the scandal about Shin’s faked doctorate had great repercussions. It subsequently led to the disclosure or confessions of falsified academic background by celebrities.
Lee Ji-young is an English inst-ructor and host of the well-regarded Eng-lish radio program, “Good Morning Pops.” It was disclosed that she did not graduate from a college in Britain, but from a local high school. Through his comic book, “Scary Foreign Baseball Team,” the cartoonist Lee Hyun-se overturned the general idea that only children read comic books. He confessed, “I am not a college dropout, but a high school graduate.” Lee Chul-hwan, the author of “Coal Road,” a touching book of essays with millions of copies sold, belatedly confessed, “I could not deny being a graduate of Seoul National University when my former students at a private institute believed it so.”
These people are different from Shin Jeong-ah, who committed fraud to the extent of submitting a forged degree by fax. But forging an academic background is grounds for nullifying the election of a candidate who wins public office. The three Lees, the English instructor, the cartoonist and the writer have already attained the stature of public figures because they make their living by lecturing and writing for the public through a radio program, cartoons or books. This is why their lies should be examined even more closely.
But honestly, I cannot point fingers at them thoughtlessly because I know how blindly obsessed with academic background our society is.
I have listened to “Good Morning Pops” by Lee Ji-young a few times while driving. Her English program was fun and easy to understand. I wondered whether any Harvard graduate could host the program more interestingly than she did. Despite her talent, could she have even gotten a teaching position at a private institute if she had not faked an educational background from a British college?
I must confess that I have conflict in my heart between those questions and the moral standard that the lies of public figures should be punished.
This applies to Lee Hyun-se, too. Lee’s comics have nothing to do with his educational background. He is a professional cartoonist. What he has to do is give people the joy of reading comic books. But his explanation is understandable that for 25 years he could not say, as a successful cartoonist, that he was a high school graduate. It is hard to deny that in our social climate we unconditionally look down on high school graduates or the less educated, no matter what they achieve.
In South Korea, 82 percent of high school graduates go to college, the highest rate in the world. In Japan, the rate is 47 percent and in most European countries, about 50 percent. In these countries, high school students receive proper vocational training instead. In the United States, a paradise of universities, the figure is a mere 66 percent. In Korea, going to college not only burdens parents with educational costs but also leads to an outrageously high rate of youth unemployment. College graduates rush in to apply for cleaning jobs at a local government. This is hardly normal. Let’s think about the meaning of the Shin Jeong-ah scandal, though it may not be easy to find a solution immediately.
It is not just the mind of Shin that is seriously ill; so is our society.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk