Ongoing investigations of South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye, promise to shed further light on the role played by prestigious Seoul institution, Ewha Women’s University, in granting favours to the daughter of the President’s confidant, Choi Soon-Sil.
The scandal over Park Geun-Hye, who is now suspended and faces impeachment hearings, was sparked after it emerged in October 2016 that Chung Yoo-Ra, the 20-year-old daughter of Choi Soon-Sil (a close friend of Park Geun-Hye), had been admitted into the university despite not being qualified.
The University cancelled Chung Yoo-Ra’s admission. University President Choi Kyung-hee resigned in October following a student outcry. It led to further allegations that her mother, Choi Soon-Sil, was unofficially advising South Korean President Geun-Hye and receiving payments in exchange for political influence.
Ms Chung, who has been training in Denmark as an equestrian rider (she won a gold medal in group dressage at the 2014 Asian Games), has been arrested for overstaying her visa. South Korean prosecutors are seeking her extradition so that she can answer questions about her enrolment at the University and other special treatment received. Meanwhile a professor at Ewha Women’s University, Ryu Chul-kyun, has been arrested for allegedly arranging someone to take tests for Ms Chung and fixing her grades while she was away in Denmark.
On Monday the Senate at South Africa’s University of Zululand announced that it will launch an internal investigation into the alleged awarding of fake degrees to postgraduate students in return for cash payments at the University’s expanded campuses in Kwa- Dlangezwa and Richards Bay. The degrees are alleged to have been awarded in law, business management, public administration and education. As many as 4,000 degrees may have been sold in the past 20 years involving an internal investigating officer, an examination official, and possibly other university officials.
Qualification scandals at the University are not new. Five staff members were suspended in 1997 for allegedly accepting bribes of R260,000 for doctoring student records and selling 15 fake degrees. In 2007 80 students were de-registered after allegedly bribing university officials to pass their entrance exams.
A former president of the Institut d’Administration des Entreprises (IAE) in Toulon, France, will go on trial on Monday for corruption. Prosecutors will allege that Laroussi Oueslati accepted bribes of up to €3,000 from overseas Chinese students and also sexual favours in return for setting aside French language proficiency requirements for their enrolment.
Others also facing charges are a university administrator and four Chinese former students. Two further former students who fled to China following news of the scandal in 2009 have been issued arrest warrants.
If found guilty, Mr Oueslati could face 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to €150,000. Mr Oueslati has professed his innocence.
A paper delivered by Nathan F. Harris at the recent AERA Annual Conference has highlighted the lack of ethical standards at universities and colleges. Harris, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, examined the findings from a state investigation into an admissions scandal at the University of Illinois in 2009, where the university operated a shadow special admission process for influential persons. Harris concludes that a host of factors contributed to what Tenbrunsel and Messick (2004) term the “ethical fading” of senior administrators who oversaw the admissions.
Ethical fading refers to the tendency towards self-deception when making unethical decisions. Sometimes administrators not only lose perspective on what is right and wrong, but they come to believe that what they are doing is the right thing. This takes place in the context of competing priorities. For example, senior management at the University of Illinois believed that the shadow admissions process was in the best interests of the institution in order to remain financially viable and connected to the community (particularly the political and corporate elite, but also those from underprivileged backgrounds).
Special admissions processes are not unique to the University of Illinois. Many institutions have processes in place that allow Vice Chancellors and other senior officers to accept special applications and use their discretion in approving enrolments. But the intent is normally to provide a pathway of entry for those disadvantaged, not for those who come from advantaged social connections. As Harris notes: “the potential for misconduct pervades colleges and universities more than we assume – and even more than we feel comfortable acknowledging.”
Prestigious Beijing institution, Renmin University of China, may have recently been ranked among the top three universities in China, but the official in charge of its student admissions department, Cai Rongsheng, is currently facing allegations of having embezzled hundreds of millions of yuan (100 million yuan being equivalent to approximately $16 million USD).
He was apparently stopped trying to board a flight to Canada using a fake passport. Another employee, Hu Juan, is also a person of interest in the investigation being carried out by Chinese authorities. Hu Juan was secretary to a former president of the university before being dismissed.
Renmin is one of ten Chinese universities currently under investigation for corruption, which is a widespread problem in China.
A report tabled by Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) has concluded that special preference was provided by the University of Queensland to the daughter of the previous Vice Chancellor, Paul Greenfield, to secure her place in a medical course over 343 more suitable applicants.
The incident occurred in December 2010 after VC Greenfield’s daughter failed to be offered a place in UQ’s medicine degree. VC Greenfield then contacted Head of Medicine Professor David Wilkinson to ask him whether there was a way of getting her a place. Professor Wilkinson then contacted Deputy Vice Chancellor Michael Keniger, who said he would personally take care of it. Despite efforts by Professor Wilkinson to dissuade DVC Keniger from intervening on the basis of advice he had received that such action was improper, DVC Keniger proceeded to authorise the offering of a place for VC Greenfield’s daughter.
“It is clear from the reviews and investigation undertaken by the CMC the decision to offer a place in the 2011 undergraduate medical program to the daughter of the then Vice-Chancellor was not based on merit,” the CMC report states.
The report also notes that the University “downplayed” the involvement of VC Greenfield and DVC Keniger in the scandal in its public statements, including the reasons why the two of them resigned in late 2011, in order to protect its reputation.
Acting CMC Assistant Commissioner Misconduct Kathleen Florian said: “It may be considered that the right balance was not struck between the public interest on the one hand, and protecting the reputation of the university and the reputations of the two most senior officers on the other.”
In a statement, the University admits that the situation was “not well handled” and gave priority to ’’the avoidance of operational disruption and reputational damage” over “the promotion of transparency.” It claims, however, to have taken the CMC’s report seriously and will seek to put in place “more transparent systems to manage issues of integrity and misconduct.”
Meanwhile, Professor Paul Greenfield faces no charges and is the current Chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. His daughter remains a student at the medical school.