[Editorial] The defiance of ethics and common sense by Yoon’s nominee for justice minister

Posted on : 2022-05-09 17:31 KST Modified on : 2022-05-09 17:31 KST
The nominee for justice minister maintains that there was “nothing wrong” with what appears to be embellishments of his daughter’s resume
Yoon’s nominee to lead the Ministry of Justice, Han Dong-hoon, takes part in an announcement of Yoon’s Cabinet picks on April 13 at the office of the presidential transition committee in Seoul. (pool photo)
Yoon’s nominee to lead the Ministry of Justice, Han Dong-hoon, takes part in an announcement of Yoon’s Cabinet picks on April 13 at the office of the presidential transition committee in Seoul. (pool photo)

Evidence is increasingly pointing to acts in defiance of ethics and common sense in the process of suspected “resume-building” activities by the daughter of justice minister nominee Han Dong-hoon as she sought admission to foreign universities.

Han’s own explanations have failed to add up. During his confirmation hearing, he will need to offer up an explanation that is comprehensible to the South Korean public.

On Sunday, the Hankyoreh reported on allegations that a four-page English-language paper registered by Han’s daughter with the US-based social sciences research database SSRN last February was actually ghost-written.

A search for the name of a foreign author listed in the paper’s document information turned up a ghostwriter from Kenya, who told the Hankyoreh that they had written the paper in question in early November 2021 — a match with the document’s composition date. The paper was one of six that Han’s daughter published in overseas academic journals during the second half of 2021.

The ghostwriting allegations came on top of questions that many had already been asking about whether it was possible for a high school student to write so many different papers over such a brief period on such a wide range of topics, which included antitrust law, national debt, and COVID-19. The journal that published the daughter’s paper was also a notorious “predatory journal” — one that violates publishing ethics by publishing papers for a fee without going through normal scrutiny procedures.

Han continues to insist that there was “nothing wrong.” Responding to the ghostwriting allegations, he admitted that there was some “online editing assistance,” but explained that it was “written as a practice exercise” and “has not been and will not be used for an actual university application.”

That explanation does not seem especially plausible in light of the situation with the child of a US-based university admission expert surnamed Lee, who was admitted to a US university after pursuing many of the same extracurricular activities as Han’s daughter, including the publishing of a paper in the very same journal.

The reason the extracurriculars of Han’s daughter are drawing so much attention is that questions about whether unfair practices of string-pulling, fabrication, or embellishment were used to boost their children’s university chances have become one of the key standards of scrutiny applied to senior government officials.

Results published Sunday from a Korean Educational Development Institute survey on attitudes toward education found evidence of severe stratification in college admissions — with just 3.9% of respondents saying they did not feel “financially burdened by private education expenses.”

At a time when many are despairing over a system in which elite academic credentials are passed down through the generations based on the parents’ financial capabilities and connections, the public is not going to be understanding toward senior government officials who continue to exploit the current college admission playing field’s bias in favor of particular classes.

That’s especially true in the case of someone like Han, who is talking up ideals of “fairness” and “justice” as he seeks to become minister of justice — despite the many concerns that have been voiced about a close associate of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol having control over the prosecution service.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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