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Korea: Coming Out about Academic Degrees

A hot topic in Korea now is the continual coming out of fake academic degree holders. Some of the most respected figures in many fields have been revealed to have fabricated their academic qualifications. A famous theatre actress in Korea was discovered, partly through confession and partly through expose, to have lied about holding a degree from the presitigious Ehwa Women's University. In addition, a famous professor and motivational speaker has also been revealed to have only a high school degree, not a Ph.D. as she supposedly had. Crying in her car during an interview, she told a reporter that she didn't have any intention to lie. The publisher of her book and mass media thought that marketing would be better if she was known to have a degree.

There have been split opinions about this issue among Koreans. Some netizens argue that their behavior is justified and criticize society instead. Others criticize the fake degree holders for their moral problems while acknowledging the problem in Korean society of so much emphasis on academic background. The significance of college name value for social success is also not just a Korean problem.

Some bloggers sympathize with these celebrities and are more cynical about society.

동국대 교수 신정아,
영어강사 이지영,
만화가 이현세,
영화감독 심형래,
동숭아트센터 대표 김옥랑,
인테리아 디자이너 이창하,
그리고 연극배우 윤석화…
누가 저들을 욕하랴.
이들도 학력사회 대한민국의 엄연한 피해자인 것을.
죄가 있다면, 실력보다 학력으로 먹고 사는 허울좋은 이 나라에서
거짓말 버무려 적당히 살아가는 요령을 남보다 더 빨리 터득한 것 뿐…
욕하는 자들이여, 입에 거품 물고 흥분하는 자들이여.
도대체 무엇 때문에 그리 화가 난 것인가?
저들의 거짓말? 우리는 거짓말 안 하고 사는가?
그래도 저 정도까지는 아니라고? 혹?여건이 주어지지 않아서 그런 것 아닌가?
솔직해지자.
실은 우리보다 가방끈 짧은 저들이 우리보다 더 성공해서 비위가 상한 것 아닌가?
실력과 학력은 비례하지 않는다는 걸 보여준 저들의 성공 앞에서
알량한 졸업장 하나 밖에 내세울 것 없는 우리의 빈곤이 쪽팔려서 기분 나쁜 건 아닌가?
아서라. 내겐 이 사람들의 구멍난 도덕성보다도
뽀록난 대한민국의 실체가 더 걱정스럽다.
가짜가 진짜 노릇해도 끄떡없는….
그 이전에 가짜와 진짜의 구별조차 무의미한….

Shin Jung-ah, Professor at Dongguk University
Lee Ji-young, English lecturer
Lee Hyun-se, Cartoonist
Sim Hyung-rae, Movie director
Lee Chang-ha, Interior Designer
Yoon Suk-ha, Play actress
Who can blame them?
They are also victims of this education-conscious society.
If they have sins, they took the tactic of lying in order to survive in this society, which likes university names rather than capabilities.
I would like to ask people who criticize them with agony.
Why on earth are you so mad?
Because of their lying? You never lie?
Do you want to say you're not such a big liar? Or you may haven't had such chances yet.
Let's be honest! Aren't you just mad because people who have shorter bag strings (HK: a Korean expression implying a lower education level) have been successful?
They showed that academic degrees and capability are not directly proportional. So you're not comfortable because you just have a piece of paper degree to show off, are you?
Don't be like that! What I'm worried about is the real face of our society, rather than these people's moral palalysis.
A society where the fakes can pretend to be the real… It's meaningless to distinguish the fakes from the real…

A different opinion is from netizens focusing on social morality.

…혹자는 그들이 학력을 위조할 수 밖에 없는
사회풍조를 탓하기도 하나,,
학벌위조 없이도 당당하게 사는 사람들
얼마든지 있습니다.
그들은 단지 노력조차하지않고
다른 사람은 피땀흘려 얻는 성과를
도둑질한것이나 다름 없습니다.
실력이 정당하게 평가되지 못하고
단지 학벌로만 이득보는 사람과 피해보는 사람이
생긴다면 이는 굉장히 억울한 처사겠죠.
뿌리깊은 학벌사회의 병폐
우리사회가 고쳐나가야 할 문제중 하나입니다.
그러나
이번 학력위조사건을
이러한 학벌사회의 풍토에 적용하는 일은
매우 부적절한 발상같습니다.
별개의 문제입니다.
학력위조가 비판받아야 하는것은
노력해서 학위를 딴 사람들과
학위가 없어도 묵묵히 열심히 살아가는 사람들을
기만하는 행위이기 때문입니다.
굳이 학벌사회의 희생자인양
그들의 범죄행위를
옹호할 필요는 없다고 생각합니다.

Some people blame the social trend that they could not help but to lie about their academic degrees. But there are so many people who have justifiable lives without this trick.
They just didn't want to make efforts and are not so different from thieves who stole what other people accomplished with their hardworking efforts.
I know that it would not be fair if capabilities are not judged fairly and there are people who get benefits or victimized due to academic backgrounds. Deeply-rooted malady of a society focusing on academic background. It is a serious problem that we should correct.
However, it is not appropriate to ascribe this scandal to the tendency of our society.
They’re separate problems. Think about people who accomplished those degrees with their efforts and people who make their best without those kinds of degrees! We shouldn't disregard these people.
It's not necessary to forgive their crimes and regard them as victims of this society.

Dangunee takes a different view and tries to elaborate through examples.

… 1. 길거리에 뭔 중형차는 그리도 많은지, 차는 곧 신분이다.
좁은 길에서 서로 엉키면 우선
큰 차, 외제차는 그냥 버티고 게긴다. 곧 신분이므로.
다 좋은데 빵빵 거리지는 말지 그래.
2. 대학교수는 술 마시러 가서도 교수고,
블로그 운영하면서도 OO교수의 블로그라고 꼭 달아둔다
근데 블로그 보는 사람도 교수님 수강생인가요??…
4. 그러다 보니 사장은 집에서도 사장, 골프쳐도 사장, 음식점에서도 사장…
그냥 개인적으로 -씨 라고 붙이면 난리난다. 사람 무시하냐고.
‘아니 근데 내가 그 회사 직원이냐고요…;;;
5. 시멘트 덩어리인 아파트 평수와 브랜드로 그 사람을 판단한다.
6. 자, 그리고 마지막
일단 학력, 재산, 지위 이런게 비슷하면 이제 마지막으로 나오는게
바로….'민증 까봐'다.
나이로 뭉개는 거다.
나이만큼 확실한 보증 있냐. 먼저 태어났고, 내가 네 형이자 언니이자 선배라는데
까라면 까야지 나이도 어린노무시끼가…

이러니 빽없고, 재산 없고, 능력없으면 위조라도 해서 뭐라도 하나 어깨에 차야지 쌈질이라도 하고 맞짱이라도 한판 뜨지 않겠냐.
사회적 지위가 되었든, 통장 잔고가 되었든, 아파트 평수가 되었든 차의 크기가 되었든…

* 그렇다고 학력위조를 한 사람들을 일방적으로 옹호하는 것은 절대 아니며, 누구를 무조건 욕하기 앞서 우리가 살아가는 사회를 한번쯤 되돌아보는 계기가 되었으면 좋겠습니다.

1. Why are there so many medium-size vehicles? Cars are status. If cars are crowded in a small alley, big and foreign cars never concede. Because it is their status. It’s fine to think that way, but don’t honk so much.
2. Professors like to mention their status even in drinking places. Their blogs always start with “Professor OO’s Blog.” But are netizens their students?…
4. Company bosses are bosses at home, golf places, and restaurants. If they are called “Mr.OO,” they are mad and take it as looking down on them. ‘Am I the employee of your company?’
5. People are judged by the size of their houses and brand names….
6. The last… if academic level, property, and social status are similar, the last card is ‘checking the ID to know the age.’ It’s the method for breaking down the other side by age. It’s the most assured certificate. I was born earlier. I’m your older brother and sister… Be obedient! You younger brother!
So people who don’t have networks, money, capabilities need fabrications in order to protect themselves and to fight against others. With social status, money in your bank account, and the size of your house, whatsoever…
But it doesn’t mean that I am on the side of these fake-degree-holders. Through these scandals, I hope that we look into our society instead of blaming these people.

Not a few netizens, like let_live, are concerned about ‘lying’ and its influence on society.

학력을 속이는 것 (의도적으로 거짓말하는 것)
학력을 감추는 것 (다른 허위 사실을 그냥 묵인 하는 것)
학력을 과장하는 것
무언가 학력이 너무 중요한 사회라는 것이 문제라면 문제다.

하지만 “거짓말을 하는 것”은 절대로 용서하면 않된다.
그 거짓말로 먹고 사는 것은 정말 더더욱 않된다.
한국사회가 거짓말을 해도 대충 넘어갈수 있다고 생각할 수 있는 여지를 조금이라도 남기는 것은
우리사회의 미래를 위해서도 절대로 좋지 않다.
내가 기억하기로 거짓말을 하는 것은 서구사회에서는 매장당 할 일이다.
이번 일로 윤석화씨가 면죄부를 받는 일이 없기 바란다.
정직한 사회를 만들기 위해 과거사를 청산하는 일도 있겠지만
현실적이고 우리가 진정으로 생각해야 할 일은
앞으로 이영자나 윤석화 같은 윤리적으로 문제있는 사람을
후대를 위한 교육을 위해서라도 경각심을 불러일으켜야 한다는 것이다.
거짓말은 우리사회가 막아야 한다.

To deceive academic background (intentionally lying).
To hide academic background (closing their eyes on fakes).
To exaggerate academic background.
It's a problem of this society that takes academic background as so important.
…But “lying” can't be forgiven. Living on their lies should not be more forgiven.
For the future of our society, the idea that regardless of lying in Korean society it's fine is not good. In western society, I think that lying means the death of the society. I hope that Yoon Suk-hwa can't be forgiven through this scandal.
In order to accomplish an honest society, liquidating history could be important, but what we have to think about now is that people with more problems like those of Lee Young-ja and Yoon Suk-hwa should be managed in the right way for our future generations.
Our society should prevent lying.

Below might be a concise sentence that captures this scandal.

‘저, 이대나온 여자거든요..’
작년에 히트한 영화 ‘타짜'에서 김혜수가 말한 대사이다. 이번 윤석화의 학력조작을 한문장으로 정리하면 이 문장이 아닐까 한다.
내가 느끼는 윤석화의 거짓말은 생존을 위한 어쩔 수 없이 한 거짓말 이라기 보다는..가진자가 자신이 안가지고 있는것을 더 취하는 욕심으로 보인다. 돈이 많은것으로 만족못하고 권력과 명예를 추구하는 졸부처럼…

“I’m a woman from E-dae (HK: Ehwa Women’s University).”
It’s one of the script lines said by actress Kim Hye-su in the hit movie ‘Tajja’ last year. If we summarize Yoon Suk-hwa’s academic degree fabrication in a sentence, it would be this sentence.
I think that her lying is not because she belongs to the people who could not avoid this kind of lying for survival, but to the people, although they have enough now, who have a desire to have more and more. Like the rich who are not satisfied with the money they have, but look for fame and power.

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