Little did I expect, soon after my last column on March 9 questioning the “intellectual dishonesty” of the ranking system, there is an ongoing elaborate report of something similar, but far more toxic than what one ever suspected.
It relates to university admission scandals implicating some of the well-ranked so-called ‘world-class’ universities in the US, no less.
Names that were often bandied about as the places to aim for are now caught with their pants down publicly in a very compromising situation unbecoming of their ‘famed’ status as education institutions where lying and cheating have no place, yet these are done almost unsuspectingly.
This has been rumoured for many years now, but hard evidence is difficult to come by, not until this fiasco emerged that is, dubbed the nation’s worst.
We had our fair share of ‘fake degree’ scandals, but they are no where near this one.
When I mentioned this recently in a meeting that deliberated on quality issues, it was quickly brushed off as unlikely as though such tendencies cannot happen in other places outside Malaysia!
How prejudiced can one be, just because they have some foreign degrees somewhere?
So here are some of the bare facts:
(a) Yale, Stanford, USC and Georgetown are among the top names reported to be involved. Meanwhile, five Harvard alumni were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in a nationwide scheme to secure admission for their children to top universities through millions of dollars in bribes and falsified standardised test answers.
(b) Those involved are allegedly very wealthy, famous and ‘white’. Previously, though, Asians and blacks were the ones who bore the brunt of such allegations. There is an ongoing “lawsuit against Harvard alleging it discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process.
“It was revealed that the college’s admissions office maintains a secretive ‘Dean’s List’ and ‘Director’s List’ which comprised donors’ relatives and others with special connections to the university.”
(c) To date, fifty people (seven of whom are Harvard affiliates), including 33 parents and athletics coaches, have been charged.
(d) Almost immediately, one Hollywood celebrity was dropped by a TV network, accused of paying US$500,000 in a scheme that involved cheating in college entrance exams and bribing athletic coaches to help her daughter and her sister get into a university in Southern California, according to court documents.
(e) This is said to be the largest known college admissions scandal in US history. US federal prosecutors claimed one company made about US$25 million by charging parents to secure spots for their children in elite schools, by cheating in the admissions’ process.
The situation is so dire that reportedly students and parents are suing the prestigious universities over the massive scandals and bribery, and for deceiving them about what actually took place. Consequently, there is a growing sense that degrees from such institutions are now grossly ‘devalued’.
So, what do we say of the rankings game that we are so engrossed in? Is it not ‘devalued’ too? After all, doesn’t it rank some of the trusted top players that are now embroiled in scandals?
Are they not privy to such ‘underhanded’ techniques, or otherwise choose to ignore them in the hope that they would remain undisclosed?
Could the rankers, too, have used similar ‘underhanded’ techniques when they aggressively solicited participation from unsuspecting institutions?
Evidence to this effect has long been suspected but nothing much has been done about it. So it is time to dive in and clean up the act once and for all.
It is certainly timely, taking a cue from the US scandals, for the relevant authorities and ministries to truly evaluate the worth of the ‘ranking game’ which has remained largely opaque and ‘shady’. Especially when education is viewed as ‘private’ goods which can be bought and sold to the highest bidder. Even to the extent of buying seats in university boards on the pretext of giving lucrative donations and sponsorships.
Meaning, there can be a greater tendency to collude, and deceive students and parents. Maybe it is time they sought clarification from the universities about how much money is spent (or wasted)?
To quote one of those who allegedly paid tens of thousands of dollars to secure a place for her son: “I know this is craziness, I know it is.” It must stop now before it gets worse!
The writer is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, Tuesday 26 March 2019