Sun, 27 Apr 2003

Instant Professor: Academic title for sale

My two sons have a maxim to excuse themselves for not living up to our hopes that they would graduate from the country's best state universities: If you are interested in others' crazy advice, you are as "normal" as they are. My eldest son was not accepted by the University of Gadjahmada in Yogyakarta, while my younger son was not able to realize our dream that he would study at Padjadjaran University in Bandung.

Realizing how much they had disappointed their parents after they could not find their names on the list of students accepted by the state universities in August last year, my eldest son showed us a report in Tempo weekly magazine about the easiest way to obtain a university degree.

"Mom, if you wish, I can obtain a doctorate easily. Just give me Rp 15 million (US$1,400). If you add another Rp 5 million, within few months, you can call me Professor Doctor Rudy," he suggested to his mother.

In support of this idea, he even mentioned that Vice President Hamzah Haz had received an honorary doctorate from a university in the U.S. -- but no Americans here have ever heard of this university. It was as though he was saying that, in order to become a vice president, you must have a university degree.

My second son just smiled. Before the announcement of the entrance exam's results, he told me that he had finished the exam quickly, faster than friends who were smarter than he. However, his friends had passed the test.

Perhaps he was also interested in joining his elder brother's "Ph.D." program, because why should he study for four years at a normal university, when he could get a degree in just two months?

According to a magazine report, there are several companies that peddle degrees, from BAs to Ph.D.s, to MBAs, and whatever diplomas in demand. The fees vary among these companies, with big discounts offered at times, like at Hero supermarket. Some boast that they are branches of famous U.S. universities -- but they use a false name that is similar to that of a famous university, like Harvat University, not Harvard. There is really no substantial requirement as long as you have the money.

My son said the best place to buy degrees was at a small kiosk located in Central Jakarta, because it required a five- to 10- page "dissertation". This meant that he also had a big chance to express his gratitude for his parents, "who had worked so hard to raise him that their weight dropped to about 45 kilograms".

Of course, as a respected intellectual -- an accomplishment of which I am proud -- I regarded my son's proposal as very stupid.

Now, they study at a private university. I am proud of them, and they always assure me that they have had no problems with their studies -- I do hope they mean what they say. I am pleased to see their thick books, although sometimes I am suspicious as to why their books look so clean, as though the books have never been opened.

One thing remains a mystery, however: Why does Rudy shave his head now, like Brazilian soccer star Roberto Carlos? I had once told him that one of the most important requirements for a professor was that he must be bald.

Do not blame my sons for their whimsical plans to try and buy a Ph.D., because their blame is my humiliation, and I am the head of a respectable family in Jakarta. For me, education is not a matter of social prestige, and is far more honorable than status.

How will they serve the nation after completing their studies?

As you can imagine, the degree-selling business is very lucrative, because many Indonesians are crazy about academic titles. What for? Many Indonesians are offended when their titles are not mentioned when their names are called. A friend of mine told me that some people even wanted their gravestones to be engraved with their titles. An ideal gravestone may read: Rest In Peace, Prof. Dr. Sumanto, MSC, MBA, Ph.D.

So, do not be surprised when your colleagues suddenly introduce themselves to you as Professor So-and-So, although you know he is not all that much smarter than you; or if your boss shows you his new business card with more academic titles trailing his name, although you had never heard him talking about his educational background before.

Just treat him according to his new status, and pretend that you admire his educational achievement. If your boss is happy, who knows that he might sponsor you for a trip to the kiosk to buy yourself a new academic credential? --Kornelius Purba--