Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme: Political Corruption of Russian Doctorates

By Osipian, Ararat L. | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme: Political Corruption of Russian Doctorates


Osipian, Ararat L., Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: This paper addresses the issue of doctorates for sale in the Russian Federation. It focuses specifically on the practice of conferring fake or unearned doctoral degrees to elected politicians and other public officials. It assembles and analyzes a database of doctoral degrees, academic ranks, memberships in the academies, awards, decorations, and titles held by the members of the Russian government, the Federation Council and the State Duma. In theory, doctorates are needed to pursue scholarship and research. In practice, however, doctorates offer to their holders some indirect or intangible benefits, among which are public recognition and respect. These can then be transformed into direct and tangible benefits through different means, including the electoral process. Accordingly, it may be the case that Russian political elites abuse the existing system of conferring doctorates in order to improve their image, and use the degrees as status-symbols in the highly ceremonial society of modem Russia.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman) is a comedie-ballet in five acts by Moliere, first presented on October 14, 1670.

Keywords: corruption, dissertations, doctorates, Duma, elites, politicians, Russia

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Politicians and other popular figures traditionally deploy verbal distinctions, high visibility, and publicity in an attempt to attract the public's attention and the votes of the electorate. The reputations of these public figures are often based on their entourage, decorations, titles, and high academic degrees. Historically, societal elites sought distinctions through music, poetry, clothing, bravery in battle, and so on. In China, yellow dye for clothing was exclusively reserved for the members of the Emperor's family. In France, carrying long swords was an exclusive right of nobles. In Russia, members of the Boyarskaya Duma had long beards and large stomachs; those without large stomachs used pillows to fit the profile. These are only a few charismatic examples in which elites possessed external and visible attributes of power. This article focuses on the process of politicians corrupting doctoral education by nefariously acquiring doctoral degrees. It uses the example of the Russian political establishment to analyze the issue of corruption in conferring doctorates. The article establishes the fact of corruption in Russian doctoral education based on the media reports, expert opinions, and data regarding the dynamics and structure of dissertations defended in Russia. It points to the practice of the conferral of doctoral degrees in exchange for illicit benefits. It develops an earlier-introduced theory of elites in order to explain how Russian politicians corrupt the country's currently existing system of doctoral education. In order to present the evidence in support of this theory, we consider the supply of dissertations for sale, the demand for doctorates, favorable conditions for such a business, and the context in which this business takes place. We consider these components according to the principle of measuring clandestine processes based on input and output. The evidence collected includes the data on firms that offer dissertations for sale and the number of leading politicians that hold doctorates. We also use data from opinion-polls conducted among scholars regarding the dissertations for sale.

The Problem of Corruption in Doctoral Education

The definition of education corruption includes the abuse of authority for material gain and is broadly defined as the abuse or misuse of public office or public trust for personal or private gain. (1) Education is an important public good, and because of this the definition of education corruption should include the abuse of authority for personal as well as material advancement. (2) University corruption takes place in both developing and developed countries. (3) Corruption in higher education may be defined as a system of informal relations established to regulate unsanctioned access to material and nonmaterial assets through abuse of the office of public or corporate trust. …

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