The widely circulated story of a “Korean high-school student (who) has set the enviable record of attending both Harvard and Stanford universities” is a hoax.
Local and some international media outlets reported last week that a Korean student at a Virginia high school had been accepted by Harvard and Stanford and that both universities so desired her that they agreed to create a special program to allow her to study at both universities without her having to choose one. Questions quickly arose about her admissions and special program, and both universities have issued statements denying the reports.
According to Yonhap News, “Harvard and Stanford universities denied Tuesday that a South Korean high school student can attend both schools as part of a special joint program for her, debunking the story of a ‘math prodigy’.”
The student’s family claimed that both Harvard and Stanford tried to convince Kim to choose their universities because she was “such a brilliant student, especially at mathematics.” The student’s family went on to claim that the universities created a special program to allow her to study at Stanford for the first two years and at Harvard for the other two years. The Chosun Ilbo published the following in an article that was removed from its site today:
(The student) initially opted for Harvard, but Stanford wanted her too and struck a deal with Harvard to create a unique program for her. She will study at Stanford during her freshman and sophomore years and then at Harvard for her junior and senior years. She can then choose from which school she takes her bachelor’s degree.
Harvard Public Affairs and Communications official Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an email to Yonhap News Agency that “we have been made aware of an alleged admissions letter sent to (student name) by Harvard University. We can confirm that this letter is a forgery…. Despite recent media reports, there is no program in existence through which a student is admitted to spend two years at Harvard College and two years at Stanford University.
The student’s family provided a letter to reporters as evidence of the student’s admission to Stanford. A senior communications official at Stanford University, Lisa Lapkin, denied that Stanford had admitted the student. “‘I am confirming that the letter you received was NOT issued by Richard Shaw or Stanford University,’ she said in response to Yonhap’s request for confirmation of an alleged admission letter signed by the dean of admissions and financial aid.”
The student’s father is reportedly the managing director of Nexon Korea. “In response to the allegations of fake admissions, he has said that there could be some misunderstanding because her admission is a very special case that has been discussed only between professors of the two universities.”
The student’s family has nonetheless “stuck to the claim and decided to take the case ahead through a lawyer.”
Anyone who is familiar with those universities likely suspected that the story might not be true. Harvard and Stanford almost routinely receive (and reject) applications from among the best and brightest, and their admissions’ committees strive to balance admitting talented and interesting individuals against building a diversified and cohesive class.
The Korea Observer published an image of the letter supposedly received from Stanford and submitted as evidence by the student’s family. The letter is dated April 1, which might indicate a cruelly epic April Fool’s prank. If I remember correctly, the Ivies send their regular admissions notices (and rejections) on April 1.
Unfortunately for the student, the father’s claim as reported that “there could be some misunderstanding because her admission is a very special case that has been discussed only between professors of the two universities” seems to preempt the April Fool’s we-was-pranked defense. I suspect that the father’s sticking to the claim and pursuing the case “through a lawyer” is for public consumption.
UPDATE: The father of the student has issued an apology to the press and taken full responsibility for the hoax. Below is the translation of his letter to the press:
I am the father of the child, and I sincerely apologize for causing such a big controversy with false information, and apologize to those involved.
Everything is my fault and my responsibility. I did not know until now how much my child was suffering and hurting and did not properly take care of her. As her father, I regret having pushed my child into deeper sickness and causing the problem to get bigger.
Going forward, our family will put everything toward treating and taking care of our daughter and live quietly. Please forgive me for not being able to explain all the details, as we have not yet finished assessing the entire situation.
My family is the most precious thing to me in any situation. To help my child and my family go forward in recovery without further hurt, I ask that the media cease reports and filming. Once more, with my head lowered, I apologize.
Although the father “had provided dozens of pages of proof in the form of acceptance letters from each university and correspondences between himself and alleged professors at each school”, Korean language newspapers have suggested that the source and fault for the hoax lie with the student and have hinted at a deeper problem.
UPDATE 2: JTBC News and other Korean language news sources cite the student’s father implying that the student had some psychological issues. I have not seen such implied (besides the translated letter above) in English language media, and I believe that, regardless of whether the student had psychological issues, that airing or publishing such is wrong.
According to news sources (see above), the father claimed to have evidence of “correspondences between himself and alleged professors at each school”. Either news sources made a false attribution to the father or the father lied about the correspondences. The father’s statements of his child’s mental state in Korean media serve no purpose other than to save his own face at the further expense of his child. He needs to do now what he should have done once the story blew up: issue an apology, make some vague statement accepting full responsibility, take care of his child, and shut up. For any father, regardless of whether he had the slightest hand (as suggested by his claims of correspondences with professors) in creating this mess, to do anything else…
I’m at a loss for words.
UPDATE 3: The Chosun Ilbo has published another article, Korean ‘Prodigy’ a Serial Fabricator. Particularly given Korea’s anti-defamation laws, I do not see how the public interest is served in revealing such defamatory information. I did not see the necessity for the JTBC interview with the student’s father and now less so for the piling on in the Chosun Ilbo. Although U.S. speech laws would make publishing such non-actionable, I’d like to think journalistic integrity would preclude the publication. I’m no fan of Korea’s anti-defamation laws, but given their existence and the lack of journalistic restraint, I hope they’re exercised in this case.