We’ve looked here before at the phenomenon of politicians claiming to have degrees from rather questionable institutions.
We’ve also looked at some of the more improbably named real universities and a set of fictional ones, including:
- Watermouth University (The setting for Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man.)
- Rummidge University (From the David Lodge trilogy Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work.)
- Euphoric State University (Also a David Lodge creation appearing in the same novels.)
- DuPont University (which appears in Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons.)
And then we have one of my favourite made up institutions, Antarctica (but I think their website probably needs a refresh now).
But this recent story in the Chronicle about another fictional university in the US really takes some beating.
The entire fake institutional web and social media presence was created by the US Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to entrap individuals who they believed were illegal immigrants.
Agents began posing as university officials in February 2017, as a part of extreme efforts to crack down on illegal immigration just a month into Donald J. Trump’s presidency. They came into contact with a small group of student-visa seekers who offered to recruit other students for pay, promising them they could obtain student visas without actually taking classes, according to grand-jury indictments released on Wednesday.
It was an elaborate scheme, and it resulted in eight arrests. The recruiters caught in the dragnet were charged with participating in a conspiracy to assist at least 600 foreign citizens to stay in the country, according to the Detroit newspaper.
It seems like a significant effort to secure eight arrests. And you have to ask if it really is a remotely appropriate or proportionate way to address concerns about illegal immigration.
You can’t see the site any more, just this page:
Interesting too that as part of the fabrication they seem to have copied the Latin motto of South Africa’s Wits University (which also used to be deployed by UMIST before its merger with the Victoria University of Manchester in 2004).
But this may all have far-reaching consequences. As this BBC story notes, the Indian government is concerned about those arrested who they say have been duped:
On Saturday, the Indian ministry of external affairs (MEA) issued the protest to the US embassy in Delhi, expressing concern over the arrests and demanding consular access to those detained.
“Our concern over the dignity and wellbeing of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated,” the ministry said.
The operation also invites the question, if it’s this easy to fabricate a university presence – how many more are out there? And what will it do for international student recruitment? In any case, let’s hope we don’t start getting those kind of ideas in the UK.