[Campus commentary]Rate people on their skills, not degrees

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[Campus commentary]Rate people on their skills, not degrees

A scandal over bogus degrees has rocked Korean society for the past few months. Practically every morning during recent months we have heard about the scandal, which the domestic press has named “Shin-gate.”
Shin Jeong-ah, a former professor, used fake degrees to get ahead in a meritocracy. With bogus degrees from the University of Kansas and Yale University, she parlayed a part-time job as a translator at Kumho Museum of Art to the position of curator of the Sunggok Museum. Finally, she was chosen a co-curator of the 2008 Gwangju Biennale, recognized as the biggest fine arts event in Asia. That earned her the prestige she wanted.
Back then, she was known as a talented young curator with degrees from elite schools. Her successful life crumbled after she was found to be a fraud.
Why did she do it? There could be many reasons, but the fundamental reason lies in our society. Our worship of highly regarded academic backgrounds has brought on this problem. I think things have gone so wrong that we don’t realize what happened here.
People size each other up by their academic degrees, not by their real abilities. We are especially dazzled by foreign degrees. Some employers argue that the social system in Korea has made us overly dependent on academic achievements.
If we tried to evaluate people apart from their academic background, the situation would get better because we would realize that each person has unique talents.
Commenting on this scandal, one student on campus said Shin looks miserable and sad. It was not just her fault; the people and the surrounding environment led her to do wrong.
I partly agree ― she should not be the only person to feel the consequences, but I do not feel sorry for her because she committed those wrongdoings.
It worries me that many fellow students don’t seem concerned about the root cause of the situation. They do not care about the fact that she had lied.
In a survey with embarrassing results taken a few years ago, 70 percent of university students said cheating is not wrong and some even considered it to be an “ability.”
I am inclined to think that if university students think that way, it is really a serious problem. Actually, on university campuses, I see many students cheat on test and copy each others’ test answers with no guilt. This climate should be changed as soon as possible because it retards our growth. To get better, we must work to improve our skills instead of cheating.
Everybody knows about a similar scandal earlier. Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, a researcher who faked the results of his research on the cloning of human stem cells, leading to national shame. During recent months, dozens of celebrities have either confessed to forging their academic records or were found out.
What has made them such monumental liars still continues to produce liars today since our society values academic degrees above everything else.
This has to change so skilled people can be evaluated properly. I believe our society can change, and my future employers will assess me by my real abilities instead of anything else.

*The writer is a reporter for the Sejong Times news magazine of Sejong University.

by Oh Ki-young
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