Photo/Illutrationillustration: Takafumi Miyajima

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Experts and health-care personnel aren't buying Juntendo University’s explanation of why it rigged exams against women applicants, pointing out the school’s reasoning is “totally unreasonable” and “nothing but sexism.”

Juntendo University admitted to rigging scores to favor male applicants in entrance exams, joining a growing scandal of medical schools in Japan that have discriminated against female applicants.

Trying to justify the practice, Juntendo University officials insisted, “Women’s communication skills are higher and there was a need to help male applicants.”

The school’s excuse has sparked criticism that the claim not only lacks evidence but also even the idea behind the justification is typically sexist.

On Dec. 10, Juntendo University President Hajime Arai and Hiroyuki Daida, dean of the medical school, held a news conference at the university to discuss the scandal.

They said they believed the school's treatment of female applicants was “based on objective data” and simply designed to “balance out and correct the discrepancy” between men and women.

Juntendo University’s entrance exam typically consists of the written test and the second exam including an interview and written essay. Whether applicants can enter the school is determined based on the total score of the first and second tests.

The university set passing scores for female applicants 0.5 point higher than their male counterparts on the second part of the exam since at least fiscal 2008. The highest possible score for the second exam was 5.40 to 5.65.

A report released by the third-party committee showed the scores were rigged because many teachers at the university’s Faculty of Medicine insisted “the interview scores need to be balanced out and corrected.”

Their reasoning was that women mature mentally faster than men and their communication ability is also higher when they take the entrance exam. As the gap is eliminated after both sexes enter the school, there was a need to balance out the discrepancy in the exam process.

The university submitted a 1991 academic thesis by an American college professor to the third-party committee, saying the paper provides medical evidence for its argument.

LACKING EVIDENCE

However, an analysis of the thesis by The Asahi Shimbun revealed that it does not mention the gap between the communication skills of men and women.

Criticizing Juntendo University, the third-party committee said: “Applicants’ personal talents and characteristics, not their gender, should be regarded as important in interview tests. Setting different passing standards for different sexes lacks rationality.”

Arai said he “judged that the measure was reasonable at that time," but apologized and vowed to “stop the practice from now on.”

Yui Yamamoto, 24, a sixth-year student at the School of Medicine and Medical Sciences of the University of Tsukuba, said she took the entrance exam of Juntendo University twice.

“Juntendo University’s reasoning is totally unreasonable,” she said. “I was surprised that despite that, the university still attempted to justify itself by presenting a thesis and other materials. The school should abolish the interview given that it considers gender as more important than personality.”

A female speech therapist in her 30s in the United States, who wrote on a social networking site that she was “trembling with sadness and anger” over the scandal, said during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that she read the thesis in question online.

“I was astonished that Juntendo University cited an inappropriate thesis to support its argument, trying to justify itself,” she said. “It is unbelievable that such terrible sexism exists in the medical community.”

UNCONSCIOUS SEXISM

Masanori Kimura, an associate professor of social psychology at Kobe College, said it is difficult to define communication ability.

“Experts have not reached an agreement over how to specify and define what communication ability is,” Kimura said.

He continued, “Interpersonal sensitivity, which allows people to take into account others’ feelings and intent, is a factor in communication ability.

“Although many findings have shown that women tend to have a higher level of interpersonal sensitivity, which simply depicts the overall trend, the degree of the sensitivity differs greatly in different individuals.”

Criticizing Juntendo University, Kimura said it is “inappropriate to uniformly judge all individuals of one sex as a group.”

Takayasu Nakamura, an educational sociology professor at the University of Tokyo, also pointed out “there is not a single standard for communication ability so the capability is very difficult to measure.”

“It is totally unacceptable that scores were rigged based on the ambiguous concept (of communication ability),” Nakamura said.

He said, “The most problematic thing is that Juntendo University uses the word ‘correct,’ indicating the school still does not realize what it did constitutes discrimination against women.

“The university should be aware that the objective fact that it treated women unfairly as one group although each applicant’s personality should be assessed in entrance exams, embodies nothing but sexism.”