But not everyone has the time nor the mental capacity to travel the traditional route to obtain it. Out of desperation comes the clever idea of cash, or other means, in exchange for the prized PhD. Where there are willing buyers, there are even more willing sellers.
The local newspapers uncovered a can of worms when they recently exposed the scam of one purported prominent person who had conned a number of people into buying PhDs from an Italian university for at least RM20,000 each. Following the exposé, a daily reported, "Some fake schools in the US were awarding as many as 500 PhDs every month."
It is understandable if the world pursues titles, from datukships to doctorate degrees, for personal glory. What is alarming is that there appears to be a similar lust in Christendom.
For some time now, reports have been circulating of Christian ministers obtaining their PhDs from institutions – such as churches and para-church organisations – which clearly do not have or lack the credentials to award the title. It is also a fact that there exist seminaries which almost guarantee any applicants their PhD with low entry requirements, cheap fees and little effort.
Similarly, we hear of doubtful practices in the awarding of honorary PhD, which is meant to be a special award bestowed by universities to people who have contributed significantly to society in various fields. Like some shady secular universities, we now have seminaries offering honorary PhDs for reasons that are only known to the recipients.
All these dubious practices have caused people to become suspicious of anyone with a ‘Dr’ to his name. People are now inclined to wonder if the doctorate is genuinely earned or obtained the ‘pasar malam’ (flea market) way, or worse, bought.
For those who are pastors and church leaders, the challenge to maintain the equilibrium of leading-to-serve is a tough call. One of the real dangers faced by leaders is the temptation to seek greater recognition. One way to achieve this is to get a title, and since knowledge is highly regarded these days, a PhD honorific has become the ‘in-thing’.
Lest one gets the wrong impression, pursuing higher academic qualifications seek knowledge and understanding. But we need to ask: "What is the goal of our pursuit of the PhD (or any title) in an unworthy manner?"
Renowned historian Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Kim recently said in an interview with Star Education (Jan 26, Sunday Star): "Conventionally, people do their PhD because they either want to do research or teach in a university, take a leading role in developing policy based on research, or some combination of these goals. The underlying reason to enrol in a doctoral programme, however should be the desire to become more intellectually engaged and more critically sophisticated in the study of some issue or field."
The Goal of All Pursuits
We Christians can learn from this wholesome perspective towards education. But we can go one step further – by adopting a Kingdom mentality to our PhD (or any title) quest. Somebody once asked, "Is leadership a function or a status?" Similarly, we ask, "Is a PhD title a function or a status?" How will it serve the purposes of God?
A local Christian businessman, one of the wealthiest and most influential in the country, recently told a group of people of his wish to be the richest man in the world. Before the stunned congregation could react to his remark, he quickly added it was so that he could then tell everyone that the provider of his riches is Jesus Christ. The businessman said his thought was inspired by a report in a magazine quoting Bill Gates as saying that he relied only on himself to gain his wealth.
Finally, in all our pursuits, let us as Christians travel the righteous path as a testimony of integrity. If a reputable non- religious doctoral degree normally takes four years of labour and sacrifice, shouldn’t we match that standard? If a secular university stints in its awarding of honorary PhD, bestowing it after a stringent and thorough process to a really deserving recipient, shouldn’t we take that stance too?