On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Shameful acts of title-chasers

In short, if a person has not put in the years of work to
earn his academic title, he does not deserve to use it. It is appalling when a
businessman who did not even complete his secondary education hands out name
cards with "Dr" in front of his name.

A degree should reflect the person's level of education
and training, not his purchasing power and certainly not for prestige purposes.

The blatant buying of academic degrees is not something
new. It has, however, become more rampant lately. Newspapers can no longer
check on people with such dubious titles.

Some years back, a prominent civil servant in Kuala
Lumpur was exposed for having a fake doctorate. He had
used that title for many years on an unsuspecting public and when caught, he
blamed it on the media, saying it was the newspapers who had called him a "Dr".
It never occurred to him, of course, to correct the "mistake".

Last week, The Star reported that for under RM3,000,
anyone who has access to the Internet can buy a PhD in any field from numerous
bogus sites.

While most doctorates take anywhere between three and
five years to obtain, these online PhDs can reach you within a month. And if
you are willing to pay more, you can even purchase a deal that includes a mock
convocation ceremony complete with a hired foreigner posing as a foreign
university vice-chancellor.

I was told a prominent businessman paid RM30,000 for a
fake doctorate from a foreign university, including having a
distinguished-looking Caucasian confer the title on him.

He invited over 100 people, including local politicians,
to the "convocation" at a hotel function room. A citation was read out, listing
his achievements, which were mostly on social and community development.

Another local politician did something similar. Despite
being a qualified medical doctor, he wanted an honorary doctorate. So, a big
function was held and the media was invited to record the event.

Never mind if there were sniggers all round because the
only thing that mattered to him was he felt important and proud.

All these fake degrees are harmless in some ways because,
after a while, the novelty wears off and the title would be dropped.

I personally know of four businessmen who had used the
"Dr" title previously. Despite having no tertiary education, they have proven
themselves to be very good businessmen.

They have contributed to society by making generous
donations to charity, especially welfare and religious organisations. They have
proven themselves and earned the respect of their peers.

There was no need for them to buy these titles in the
first place. Perhaps they lacked confidence because they did not have paper
qualifications. Craving for respectability, they forget that character makes a
person – not a piece of paper.

What is more disturbing is the allegation that some
administrators of local colleges are using the title of doctor, too.

These administrators may have a degree or two but they do
not have doctorates. Their "doctorates" are merely honorary degrees from
foreign universities which their colleges have business ties through twinning

These honorary degrees are genuine but do not entitle
these administrators to use the "Dr" title. The grumbling naturally comes from
lecturers who have spent years earning their stripes.

One can understand their anger when they are instructed
by the owners of these colleges to address their superiors – in this case the
chief executive officer or director – as "Dr" to boost the image of the

It's cheating. The sad part is that the college owners do
not realise they are sending the wrong message to the students – that it's all
right to put a title in front of your name even if you don't work for it.

Honorifics, whether Datuk or Doctor, should not be
treated like commodities in an open market. They must be meritoriously awarded
in order to be respected by the public.