Topic: Professions & Institutions
No Tolerance for Fake Credentials
Elsewhere on The Ethics Scoreboard are condemnations of "zero tolerance" policies in schools, which often result in children being punished for innocent, harmless, or even virtuous behavior because it violates the letter of a well-intentioned rule. But there are some kinds of behavior that warrant zero tolerance; indeed there are instances where zero tolerance is essential if we do not want unethical conduct to become the norm. One such instance is the use of phony degrees on resumes.
The practice is a burgeoning epidemic, fueled by internet-marketed diploma mills, realistic sounding unaccredited "universities" that certify meaningless degrees for a price. It is burgeoning because it works, and it works for two reasons, the first understandable, the second indefensible. The first: many employers trust people to tell the truth. The second: even when the phony degrees are discovered, some employers do nothing.
How bad is the problem?
All this, by virtually everyone's estimate, is the tiny tip of a huge iceberg of deception. And the iceberg is certainly growing, fueled by non-responses all over the country mirroring that of the government, D.C. and Fox. The argument, it seems, is that the fake-degree holders are conceivably "victims" of the fraudulent schools, and thus shouldn't be penalized when their credentials prove imaginary.
Let's get this straight, shall we? Someone obtains a professional position or a promotion claiming an academic credential that normally requires years of hard study and work, a job sought by other qualified individuals with real credentials who have represented themselves honestly and forthrightly. That credential turns out to have been purchased from an unaccredited school that asks for little or no academic work to supplement the check. The fake-credential holder is then permitted to keep the presumably important job despite the absence of the crucial credential out of sympathy? The job holder does not hold legitimate credentials for the job. The job holder has taken a position from better qualified candidates. The job holder has either lied, or not taken necessary steps to ensure the integrity of his or her own education…or is so incredibly lazy and gullible that he ought not to be trusted in a high level job. The fraudulent degree-holder is not the victim that matters here. Those who need to be served by someone unqualified for the job at hand--they are victims. Those who deserved the job and were cheated out of it by fraudulent means--they are victims. All those whose real degrees are cheapened every time a bogus one is placed on a resume--they are victims. If the purchasers of the fake degrees were truly duped (and it is hard to believe that this is the case very often), let them seek damages in the courts.
What has happened, perhaps, is that decades of sloppy talk by educators and politicians about the importance of a "diploma" and a "degree" in career success really have succeeded in causing too many people to forget that it is the education behind the degree that matters. Whatever the reason for the glut of fake credentials, the verdict is inescapable. They are lies, and they cause great injustice and harm. None of the rationalizations used to justify them…that they don't matter as long as the applicant can do a good job, that they make up for the injustice of not having the cash or opportunity to get a real degree, and of course, that "everybody does it"...stands up to logical or ethical analysis. Everybody doesn't do it, but everybody will if a "no tolerance" response doesn't become standard in every industry, institution and profession, even in the ethical No Man's Land of television. If you claimed a fake degree, you lose your job. Always.
There are some things that should never be tolerated.