On some level I can understand the thinking by many Vietnamese people that nepotism is not a social evil but a normal phenomenon in Việt Nam.
People generally want the best for their family members and want to provide what support and help they can, so of course opening pathways for educational and employment opportunities makes sense from that perspective.
The difficulty occurs when such support limits fair access to others who may be equally or better qualified for positions that family members are appointed to.
Also if an individual is supervised by a relative, the problem can become even greater.
Is the relative able to fairly judge the performance of their family member against the standards set by the institution?
I think nepotism can be a slippery slope into corruption, if not a corrupt behavior in and of itself.
Corruption, of course, refers to a disregard of laws and making choices and decisions based only on one’s own self-interest.
And the next closest thing to making decisions based on self-interest is making decisions based on family self-interest.
What takes priority in such actions are most often not the goals of the society or the public organization but rather those of the individual and those closest to him or her.
While the costs of such behavior may not be evident on the small scale, that is, within the family, on a larger scale the consequences become evident.
When choices are not made based on fairness, equity, and quality, the best and most qualified persons are likely not selected.
Presumably a paid position carries with it responsibilities that must be carried out as effectively and efficiently as possible to meet some specific need of the society.
When the best person to accomplish this does not have an opportunity to be considered everyone loses in the end.
Also if there are few alternatives to nepotism in terms of access to employment and education, such practices seem likely to continue.
Of course nepotism exists in the U.S., although we make efforts to control such practices through our laws and policies.
Many of our states have laws that prohibit conflicts of interest in the hiring and contracting that occurs in public agencies and institutions.
What we mean by conflict of interest is when stronger loyalties to personal interests than to the professional interests and mission of the organization occur as a result of some personal relationship to the person being hired or doing the hiring.
Fair hiring policies which require employers to follow specific steps to ensure that all qualified applicants are given equal consideration are in place in all publicly supported organizations.
Several years ago at West VirginiaUniversity, a niece of our then state governor was awarded a degree that she had apparently not completed all the requirements for.
This caused quite a scandal in our state and in our university when it was discovered, and now every department and school must go through a rigorous process to ensure that students have taken all classes and passed all exams required before degrees are awarded, regardless of who they are or who they may be related to.
I have not faced nepotism as we have been discussing it here, but we at West Virginia University we are exploring ways to support family life of our faculty and staff in other ways.
Providing day-care for employees is one way, another is to develop fair processes to hire dual career professional couples.
As you can imagine, there are a number of challenges to doing this while avoiding risks of conflict of interest.
I think one of the reasons why it may be unfair to compare practices in Việt Nam with practices in the U.S. has to do with opportunity.
It is certainly very easy to argue against nepotism when family members will have opportunities beyond those that can be provided for through such practices.
Also when such behaviors are pervasive, it is difficult to bring about change.
I, for example, may want to stop giving my family members an unfair employment advantage if I am in a position to do so, but if no one else is willing to change, what other doors will be open for them?
In my opinion, what is needed to stop such practices are broader governmental policies that prohibit such behaviors and are fairly enforced, so that everyone can be on a equal playing field and such actions are no longer necessary.
Often the costs of nepotism are not obvious in the short run, but given the commitment to building a better society that I have seen among the young people of Việt Nam seeing the longer view and loss to the greater good is something I believe young people will want to consider.
Fairness, equity and access in the long run will almost always have a better outcome than favoritism.