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Univ. professor in Japan received $2,700 each from doctoral degree recipients

Kindai University's Faculty of Medicine is seen in Osakasayama, Osaka Prefecture. (Mainichi/Ryoko Kijima)

OSAKA -- A professor at Kindai University's Faculty of Medicine received 300,000 yen (about $2,725) from each doctoral degree recipient he instructed, a practice that former graduate students said had become "customary," the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    Students said they handed the money to Noritaka Isogai of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, who has denied receiving monetary rewards.

    "I handed him the money as honorarium for his everyday instruction. It was customary," a former graduate student of the university told the Mainichi Shimbun -- a testimony shared by other former students.

    It is believed that there were no irregularities in the screening of dissertations at the university, in western Japan city of Osakasayama, Osaka Prefecture.

    The revelation comes amid the university's ongoing investigation into the professor over alleged misappropriation of membership fees for a research group he established without permission from the school.

    According to several former Kindai graduate students, each thesis for a medical doctorate is reviewed by a lead instructor known as a "chief referee" and two deputy instructors serving as deputy chief referees. The chief referee and two sub-referees pose questions at a hearing, and the graduate student reports their research results. If there are no problems in the question and answer session, the academic degree is conferred to the candidate.

    The former students said after they acquired their degrees, they each paid 300,000 yen to professor Isogai as a reward for his instruction.

    "There was this custom of handing over an honorarium, and I'd heard from a senior student that the rate was 300,000 yen, so I handed him (the professor) the money in an envelope," revealed a former graduate student. "It was in no way intended to gain an academic degree. I earned my degree through my own ability. I intended the money to be a reward for his instruction, but I guess such a custom involving money isn't good," the ex-student said.

    Another former graduate student testified, "I handed him the money without much consideration, as it had become customary to reward the professor. I'd had my solid research recognized, and I don't want others to get the impression that I bought my degree with money."

    Another former graduate student said, "I gave him a monetary reward as I thought I would be treated poorly afterward if I was the only one who didn't hand it over."

    Professor Isogai, meanwhile, has denied his receipt of monetary rewards and released a comment through the university's public relations office, saying, "The claims are baseless."

    The professor was earlier embroiled in a separate money scandal. Over a decade ago, Isogai launched a research society on reconstructive and regenerative medicine along with the director of a local affiliated hospital where staff physicians at Kindai University's Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery are dispatched. Over the past few years, the group collected annual membership fees ranging from 6 million to 8 million yen (about $54,460 to $72,600) from other hospitals. While the group's name bears the name of Kindai University, the school does not authorize the establishment of private study groups using the university's name, and this particular group was set up without the institution's permission.

    In 2019, professor Isogai purchased a room on the 32nd floor of a high-rise condo close to Osaka Station in the heart of the city of Osaka, separate from his home. Under the pretext of renting the room for activities of his research group, he formed a lease contract with the group and received 2.4 million yen (about $21,788) per year in rent fees from the group's membership fee revenue. However, Isogai told reporters, "The room was rarely used" for the group's activities.

    Moreover, an individual close to the matter commented, "There were almost no actual activities as a study group." The university is probing the matter and questioning Isogai over the background to the establishment of the group and how its membership fees were used.

    (Japanese original by Kenkichi Tanaka and Atsushi Inagaki, Osaka City News Department)

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