Photo/IllutrationThe main entrance to Tokyo Medical University's campus (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

It's time to call things as they are. In this case, it is a matter that concerns outright corruption, not just "misconduct."

In a continuing investigation into Tokyo Medical University's alleged rigging of entrance exams, new suspicions have arisen that the institution inflated the test scores of certain applicants at the request of politicians and faculty members.

The latter allegedly "repaid" the university with large donations and honorariums, according to a report submitted by a third-party investigative committee set up by the university.

But the report failed to get to the bottom of the scandal, as the committee was unable to question Masahiko Usui, the former chairman of the university’s Board of Regents, and Mamoru Suzuki, the former president, both of whom have been indicted.

Still, the committee managed to obtain statements from some of the parties involved, as well as a letter from an applicant's parent, addressed to Usui, promising to donate 30 million yen ($278,000) if the university accepted the applicant.

The committee also confirmed a case where Usui said he had received "a request from a Diet member," and saw to it that a School of Nursing candidate, who had passed the entrance test but was on the waiting list for a vacancy, leapfrogged others who were higher on the waiting list.

Many of the applicants who received "favorable treatment" were identified as children of doctors or Tokyo Medical University alumni.

If this "backdoor entry" has been in practice for years, the matter is truly grave. There is no worse violation of the fairness of entrance tests. The education ministry must mount a thorough investigation without delay.

In a 2002 directive, the ministry reiterated its ban on entrance exam-related donations, and warned that offenders will be denied government subsidies.

What triggered the issuance of this directive was a scandal that surfaced at Teikyo University's School of Medicine, which had collected donations--over five years--before the announcement of successful applicants each year. The university was forced to return about 4.9 billion yen in government subsidies.

The Tokyo Medical School case, too, must never be considered closed without some stiff penalty being imposed.

But that, of course, will not be all. Steps must be taken swiftly to prevent a recurrence by revamping the university's internal management structure--specifically, by not letting just a handful of senior officials call the shots on which candidates to accept, and by reinforcing audits.

Tsuneo Akaeda, a former Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House and a director of Tokyo Medical University's alumni association, told an interviewer: "Since 10 or so years ago, I have asked the university to accept about 20 children of alumni to the medical school." He went on, "I thought donations would be made to the university if those children got in."

Akaeda denied ever discussing the amounts of the donations with those alumni. But the fact that he felt no qualms whatsoever about acting as an intermediary was a stunning revelation in itself.

Tokyo Medical University also discriminated against female applicants on grounds that young women would often leave the medical profession for childbirth and parenting, which in turn led to a doctor shortage at affiliated hospitals.

What was common to the university's twin transgressions--giving favorable treatment to certain applicants and discriminating against women--was the mind-set among its top officials that their priority was to ensure that nothing stood in the way of university management, and that it was worth sacrificing the fairness of entrance tests for it.

According to a study by a "yobiko" preparatory school, Tokyo Medical University will likely receive fewer applicants in the days ahead.

Playing foul will inevitably incur society's disapproval, trigger government subsidy cutbacks and ultimately hurt business.

This is a lesson that every university and every department should bear firmly in mind.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8