There’s a classified advertisement running in a Mexico City newspaper that promises “resume boosters” for about $40 a pop. If you need a job, the ad promises, they’ll get you one. If you want more money, they’ll get you that, too.
“You get paid what you say you’re worth, not what you’re worth!” the ad unctuously intones. “A big mouth will take you a long ways (sic).”
Some of Mexico’s highest-ranking officials, including two in key labor and commerce positions, evidently couldn’t agree more.
In the last couple of weeks, three members of the Cabinet and three undersecretaries have been exposed for falsely claiming graduate degrees from foreign universities. And not just any schools: Harvard University, the London School of Economics, Rice University.
The most blatant case has resulted in the only firing so far. Education Secretary Fausto Alzati was replaced Jan. 22 after the Reforma newspaper disclosed that he had never received the doctorate he claimed from Harvard.
Alzati (now dubbed “Falsati”) later acknowledged that he never even earned an undergraduate degree in Mexico, which raises questions about how he got into Harvard’s master’s program. Eventually Alzati was forced to admit that bad behavior got him expelled from elementary school in the second grade.
That this should happen in Mexico isn’t entirely surprising. In a classconscious society, academic degrees have long been a way to show one’s place in the hierarchy. In Mexico, the term licenciado still opens doors and commands respect, even though it means only that someone has a college degree.
“Many in government wield licenciado like a royal title, and for years politicians appropriated the term whether they ever went to college or not.
The problem for them is that in the last decade, hundreds of thousands of middle-and working-class Mexicans have been able to attend college and earn bachelor’s degrees. In some circles, licenciado just doesn’t pack the same punch.
So some politicians have simply moved themselves up the academic ladder. And unlike the old days, when no one dared to or cared to, people are calling them on it.
“I guess there’s a new political class that feels to get ahead of the game they have to show they have a degree from a foreign university,” said political analyst Sergio Sarmiento (B.A., York University, Toronto, with a diploma to prove it.) “There’s so many licenciados now that it doesn’t make a difference. So they have to keep upping the ante.”