It is not rare for universities and colleges in Korea to be stricken by the social ills prevalent in the country, including corruption, sexual misdeeds and abuses of power.
Yet another dark side of the academic community has come to the fore: Some professors include their children as co-authors on their own research papers.
The seemingly widespread practice was first exposed late last year when a Seoul National University professor was found to have included the name of his son as a co-author in as many as 43 papers for which he was the corresponding or first author.
The act started when the professor’s son was in his first year of high school.
The case prompted the Education Ministry to launch a review of academic papers published from 2007 to 2017. Its outcome was astonishing: There were 82 such cases at 29 universities, including top-notch universities.
Leading the list was Sungkyunkwan University with eight cases, followed by Yonsei University with seven, and Seoul National University and Kookmin University with six each.
Ministry officials said of the 82 cases, 39 involved research papers published as part of joint programs involving universities and high schools. The remaining 43 had nothing to do with high school curricula.
It is obvious why the professors included the names of their children in the papers. The merit of being co-authors of research papers gives them a good advantage in seeking to enter universities through special admissions programs.
The fact that many of the high school students listed as co-authors are in their second and third years shows that the chief motivation of the professors and their children were college admissions.
What is troubling is that if the professors had been so audacious as to include the names of their children in their own research papers, they would have had no qualms doing so for the children of their relatives or others close to them.
In other words, there has been a widespread practice through which many students received undue favors in getting admission into institutions of higher learning, many of which may have been prestigious ones.
But the Education Ministry has yet to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. It is absurd that the ministry has only asked the 29 universities to carry out follow-up investigations into the cases and take due actions. University authorities probing their own professors are bound not to be as strict and objective as outside investigators.
It is also wrong that the ministry has not made public the names of the professors involved in the cases. One of the first steps to a thorough, fair and transparent investigation is to disclose the professors’ names.
The next steps should be taking due disciplinary action against the professors and revoking the admissions of their children if they are found to have listed their names as co-authors only because of their family ties. That is no less than fraud, which greatly threatens the integrity of universities and education as a whole in Korea.
The SNU professor whose case prompted the investigation resigned to avoid a pending disciplinary action. That is a common way for those who committed wrongdoings to dodge punishment. Such a disciplinary lapse should not be allowed.
Most of all, the findings urgently call on the Education Ministry and university officials to work out an effective system to verify the authenticity of the authors listed on research papers.