My Take

At Harvard, Gerald Chow took tutoring to the extreme

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 7:14am

Wouldn't you jump at the chance to study at the august John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard? I know I would, at least until I started looking into the calibre of some of its graduates.

This came to light when jewellery giant Chow Sang Sang boss Gerald Chow King-sing sued Mark Zimny, a US education consultant, to get back US$2.2 million after an unsuccessful bid to get his two sons into Harvard as undergraduates. But as documents submitted by Chow's lawyers to a US court show, a tutor affiliated with the company of the same consultant coached the jewellery magnate extensively as he studied for a master's degree at the Kennedy School in 2007-08.

A November 2007 billing for tutoring in late September and October amounted to more than 100 hours at US$80 per hour, or US$8,100. The December bill came to a whopping US$15,184. For March 2008, it was US$10,777. One entry mentioned hunting down Confucius quotes to insert in an essay, which was billable as part of a four-hour, 25-minute exercise. The June billing, when the course wound down, was US$26,583! This last major bill included "audit lectures", whatever that means, which amounted to 1,364 minutes, or 22.73 billable hours.

David Gorman, a lawyer for Chow's tutor, Jane Cassie, told The Harvard Crimson the tutoring rendered was entirely appropriate and much needed for many foreign students like Chow.

"There are a lot of foreign students that have these tutors," he was quoted saying in the paper. "I know it's very commonplace. [Cassie] spent hours with Mr Chow going over books with him. She said sometimes he completely missed the point. He was struggling with some of the material and she helped him."

So, how difficult was the course? It's a lot of reading, but still it's just a bit of Machiavelli and Max Weber; US foreign policy and conservatism; the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela; the bond market and corporate ethics; standard stuff that any smart politics undergraduate could handle with ease. Yet Chow advised our government's Central Policy Unit.

Oh, ex-chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was a fellow alumnus, too. A lot of good that did us.