It’s probably not fair, in the strictest sense, to hold up The Power Vertical as an example in the fake-diploma “scandal”, because the entire anti-Russian blogosphere is snickering up their sleeves at the story that some 70 engineers working at a Sukhoi assembly plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur were discovered to have fake diplomas. I have a couple of reasons for doing so. For one, I kind of expected better from these guys. I mean, La Russophobe is mostly a harmless clown, and the Moscow Times is little better than a supermarket tabloid (TWIN BABIES EATEN BY VLADIMIR PUTIN!!!). But these guys are supposed to be educated, and – in theory – unbiased. For another, I’m tired of the weird obsessive love affair russophobic “news” sources have with the word “Potemkin”, using it as a modifier for everything. In this, The Power Vertical is no improvement on La Russophobe – a quick search yields 6 pages worth of “Potemkin” references; one or two genuine, such as the battleship Potemkin, or a surname. But you’ll find numerous references to “Potemkin villages” or “Potemkin cities”, “Potemkin monitors”, “Potemkin style”, “Potemkin cuts”, “Potemkin president”, “Potemkin congress”, “Potemkin prisons”, “Potemkin projects”, “Potemkin party” (in fairness, that might have been a sailor-themed festivity on the battleship, but probably not), “Potemkin candidacies” and “Potemkin parliament”. Come on, guys – is it laziness, or just lack of imagination? Find a new hot-button word, what do you say? Give us a break.
All right. A bunch of “engineers” at a Russian aviation plant were found to have used fake degrees to get hired. This is big news. What conclusion are we supposed to draw from the reports? That Russians are fundamentally dishonest? That Russians are too stupid to achieve real degrees? Too lazy? All of the above? Supposedly the employment of false degrees is “rampant” in Russia – one source says one in three, one says a third and one says fifty percent, and all are talking about different things; so naturally, the highest figure is the one quoted. However, just a few sentences earlier the Moscow Times reports that “these schemes almost always go unnoticed”. Should you not recognize that, it’s another way of saying “nobody has a clue how many people do it”.
But let’s get back to what the use of fake diplomas says about the country. I’d be interested to know, because the world’s biggest market and supplier of fake diplomas, degrees and certificates is that beacon of public education, freedom and enterprise, the United States.
We’re informed that 70 engineers faking their qualifications for employment in Russia is suggestive of a lack of political will – that the government doesn’t care how much academic plagiarism has corrupted the education system. No substantiation is offered for this conclusion: is it because Putin said, “I don’t care”, or because the government has been unsuccessful at stopping the trade in fake documents?
A lack of political will. The government doesn’t care. What, then are we to make of the Associate Deputy in the Chief Information Office at the Department of Homeland Security who obtained her job using phony degrees from a diploma mill? The Director of Contracts, Proposals and Pricing at a major American defense contractor who got his MBA from the notorious St. Regis University, a bogus college that requires no coursework or skills? The former president of Microsoft China, who obtained his fake degrees from diploma mills in California and Hawaii? The teachers in Georgia who received pay raises based on fraudulent degrees? The board member of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools who had a fake doctorate from St. Regis university? The federal employees of the National Nuclear Security Administration who paid for degrees although they attended no classes? The United States Army recruiters, for the love of God, who advised an amateur journalist posing as a potential recruit to obtain a fake high school diploma – not to mention taking him to buy a detoxification kit so he could pass the drug test?? Would that qualify as “rampant”, do you think?
Make no mistake: it is. Diploma mills are big business, anywhere from $100 Million to $1 Billion a year – more than 100,000 fake degrees per year in the U.S.A. alone (estimated). They are quite candid in inferring they can match genuine diplomas, right down to the embossed seals the Moscow Times suggests are a giveaway that a diploma is a fake. Where are diploma mills located? Well, let’s see: there are 134 in California alone, because selling fake college degrees through the mail is not illegal in California. Hawaii is next with 94 diploma mills, and on down the list. As mentioned previously, the U.S.A. is far and away the leader in both the peddling and consuming of fake college/university degrees: 810 bogus institutions are known to be operating in America. The next closest and a very distant second is the U.K., with 271 fake universities – significantly more than the 158 legitimate schools and colleges operating.
To their credit, the Moscow Times doesn’t just point at the problem and laugh, as many russophobic bloggers do. It recommends forcing top universities to adopt an “honour code” that all students and faculty members would be required to uphold, or face expulsion. It sounds suspiciously like the plot of “Scent of a Woman“, but at least it’s an idea. Since the problem is even more rampant in the United States, Russia should probably adopt their federal legislation in toto, except for translation into Russian.
Oh, wait – problem. There is no federal legislation in the United States that outlaws diploma mills. Although some states have taken steps to ban trafficking in fake degrees, diplomas and certificates, there doesn’t seem to be – if you’ll forgive me – any political will to control an industry that is acknowledged to corrupt and degrade the education system. In fact, “even where it is explicitly illegal, both in some states and abroad, enforcement is erratic”. You don’t say – tell me more. “The U.S. federal government puts the responsibility on the states, and since it is a white collar crime, no large scale enforcement has taken place”. I know – let’s make them agree to an honour code!
Some law enforcement agencies are understandably frustrated. Says FBI Agent Robert Pence, “Diploma mills debase our entire educational system”. However, those who run diploma mills see it differently; Charles Durham, who has been charged with mail fraud in connection with operation of three diploma mills, says (through his lawyer), “the diplomas were only expensive novelties. People who bought these diplomas knew exactly what they were getting, and I don’t think the FBI can show otherwise”. For his part, Wayne del Corral – a finance teacher at Tulane University – is a satisfied customer. “Just the ability to put P.H.D. after my name is what I was looking for”, he says: “It’ll make things a lot easier with respect to submitting papers to journals and so forth”.
Postscript: Mr. Coalson has suggested the Power Vertical piece discussed herein is mischaracterized, and that his real purpose was to highlight the manner in which the Russian government is systematically making itself unaccountable to the public. Do me a favour, will you? Go to the subject item, and see if anything in it suggests to you that the government is making itself unaccountable to the public. I’ll wait. Back already? Yeah, me either – the closest is the speculation that the Kremlin will be unable to pursue a modernization agenda with so many fake degrees floating around. Say; I have a question. If the Kremlin is acknowledged to be pursuing a modernization agenda, where does the part about making itself less accountable to the public come in?
Also (to use a favoured Sarah Palin sentence), I’d submit that using as an example a practice that is not against the law is a hell of a funny way to point out that the government “doesn’t care”. It might be (read “is”) unethical, but there’s no current law forbidding it. Moreover, there’s no law against it in the USA, either, where the problem is much bigger. So why all the finger-pointing and indignation at Russia? If Mr. Coalson means to suggest someone should be setting an example – lead the way. I’ll be watching for your Americaphobic piece that will humiliate the federal government into taking action. I notice the article points out that employers seldom check, because Russian universities will not provide that information. The USA is ahead of you there, too, Russia – if you check the services offered by some of those American diploma mills, some provide a phone number where someone will lie to your employer and tell him/ her that you actually attended that university, and achieved those grades. Again, apparently not illegal.
He further suggests all the examples provided to illustrate the extent of the problem in the USA are “whataboutism”. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means offering a distraction from what I don’t want you to look at, by shouting “Over here!! Look over here!! What about this??” It’s a fair criticism, since such things are in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll attempt to explain why I did that. Take all those citations of unethical (but not illegal) use of fake diplomas and credentials to obtain pay raises, better jobs or jobs you just plain wouldn’t qualify for without your supposed level of education, and roll them into the following sentence.
If your own government doesn’t recognize the practice as illegal and will not commit to a law that eliminates it, despite your domestic law enforcement’s complaints that it degrades the national education system and spits on the efforts of students who follow the rules….who the hell are you to hold the Russian government to a higher standard?
Physician – heal thyself.