Degree-for-fee expose just the tip of rampant academic fraud

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 July, 2010, 12:00am

On June 27, Tang Jun turned 48. Until then, he had been on a roll. He was the darling of the mainland media, frequently on the covers of business magazines and the guest on the most popular talk shows because of his seemingly perfect resume and impressive track record as a professional business manager.

He probably had no idea his nightmare would begin four days later. On July 1, he was accused of falsifying his credentials, including a doctoral degree from the famed California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, which he does not hold.

Tang had become an idol for millions of business school students and business managers on the mainland precisely because he has no strong family connections and seemed to have made it by himself. He studied in Japan and the United States before he joined Microsoft in the United States in 1994 and worked his way up to become president of Microsoft China in 2002. He later joined Shanda Interactive Entertainment, a leading online provider on the mainland, as its president and director and played a major role in the company's flotation on the Nasdaq. In 2008, he joined the New Huadu Industrial Group as the president and chief executive officer.

Among the various titles and honours he has accumulated in the past decade, he is best known as the highest-paid professional manager on the mainland. He reportedly received an annual salary of 100 million yuan (HK$114 million) at Shanda, and went to work for New Huadu for a reported package of 1 billion yuan. But then Dr Fang Shimin , better known on the mainland as Fang Zhouzi and a well-known anti-fraud crusader, began to write in his blog challenging Tang's claims on his r?m?Fang's most scathing accusation was that Tang claimed to have a doctorate from Caltech in his best-selling biography My Success Can Be Copied.

Tang did not react until Tuesday, when he denied saying he held a doctorate from Caltech, and his publisher took the blame for failing to delete the reference to that degree.

But it was already too late. Tang's admission that he obtained his doctorate degree from a California-based university exposed for selling degrees for a fee has made matters even worse. The mainland media has started to turn against him and the 'instant polls' of internet users by major mainland portals have indicated the majority have lost faith in him.

Tang's amazing transformation from a media darling to a scourge in less than a week has less to do with the fickle nature of the media than with something much bigger - rising anger against rampant academic fraud and lack of honesty and credibility in mainland society as a whole, and against the mainland authorities' feeble attempts to tackle the issue.

Indeed, hardly a day goes by without reports of academic fraud, including plagiarism, cheating on exams, and falsification of credentials. Many have seen this as the sign of moral decay in the rapidly changing Chinese society, which is seen as lusting after money and vanity.

It's hard to imagine even 10 years ago that cheating on the annual national university entrance examinations in June could become so rampant and sophisticated. Every June, police have to deploy the latest technology to detect and jam electronic signals that test-sitters' gadgets, normally used by spies in the movies, try to capture.

One immediate benefit of Tang's saga is that many mainland business executives, particularly those who work for listed companies on the mainland and in Hong Kong, are now busy making necessary changes to their resumes. Hong Kong-listed Mengniu Dairy issued an urgent notice on Friday night, 'clarifying' that Ding Sheng , one of its executive directors, merely completed studies in business administration courses at Nankai University instead of having graduated with a master's degree in business administration, as previously announced in the company's annual reports and other announcements. Whoops.