Sunday, September 02, 2007

6 Degrees of Obfuscation

There has been much ink spilled over the last couple of months in Korea over the fake degree scandal, with dozens of leading figures and celebrities caught having lied about their university education and other qualifications. Good overview of the story at the IHT here (and at the New York Times, too, but the IHT links do not expire after a week).

I find this whole scandal to be particularly amusing because years ago I was actually on the receiving end of the exact opposite situation, where I was denied a job because the prospective employer did not believe my credentials were real (even though, I assure you, they are).

Many years ago, before this journalism thing was working for me, I applied for a teaching position at a university outside of Seoul, and I needed a Master's Degree for the position. Which I have. But the strange thing is, I earned my Master's while I was still an undergraduate. It is called "submatriculating," which is starting work on graduate school while still an undergraduate. Not all universities allow this, but mine did, and through a quirk of scheduling and my idiosyncratic interests, I ended up taking a lot of graduate level classes in my junior and senior years. End result was that I received my BA and MA at the same time.

But the school to which I was applying had not heard of submatriculating and they told me they did not believe I could really have earned both degrees at the same time. This was despite my having original transcripts and diplomas for both degrees. They had not heard of this before, therefore I was lying. They did not bother calling my university to check out my degrees.

Which is, I suppose, how my story intersects with all the fake degree stories in the news now -- not checking. Anyhow, I thought it was kind of an interesting flipside to the current scandals.

Personally, I am pretty ambivalent about the whole idea of "qualifications" in the arts and writing. I never took a journalism course in my life, but I seem to have figured out how it works okay (thanks to a lot of help from some very kind journalists and editors). And the world if full of MFA graduates who make terrible art. When I go to the doctor, I want someone who is qualified. When I get legal advice, I want someone who is bar certified. But for writing, art, criticism? Screw it, I want someone creative, intriguing and who can do a good job.

The interesting follow-up story on the fake-degree scandal I would like to read is how good of a job did all those fakers do. What did people think of Shin Jeong-ah's work as a curator/critic? Were Lee Chang-ha's buildings well designed? Were they even structurally sound? Did the monk Jigwang have less enlightenment because he never really graduated from Seoul National University? Heck, he should have just claimed to have transcended transcripts and overcome the materialism of the degree.

1 comment:

gordsellar said...

Yeah, I have a friend who was told he should have gotten a 2-year MA, because his hurrying up and finishing his MA in 1 year fit him into a lower pay bracket at his new job. (!!!)

I don't know about the other two, but I'm told that Lee Chang-ha was widely ridiculed prior to being outed: a lot of dumbass blather as a guest on talk shows revealed a certain basic ignorance of the field.