Plagiarism rages in Romania as Prime Minister is accused

Nicolae Ciucă is the third Romanian prime minister in a decade to face allegations of doctoral plagiarism. And, despite recent reforms, experts say it could be 30 years before the wider problem is solved.

Romanian investigative journalist and academic from the University of Bucharest, Emilia Şercan, is one of the main reasons why the issue has attracted public attention in her country. His work has exposed two prime ministers, two former home affairs ministers, two former defense ministers, a health minister and an education minister, among others.

As a result of his investigations, the Romanian Police Academy’s doctoral school was closed, a national committee to investigate doctoral plagiarism was reintroduced, and academic integrity courses are now mandatory in all Romanian universities. .

But despite these reforms, she said it will take decades to fix the problem. “Maybe in 20 years, in 30 years, maybe things will have changed, but it will happen [across] generations and [through] change mentality, procedures and laws and even people in specific positions,” she said.

His most recent case, involving Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă, illustrates the limits of legal approaches to solving the problem. Dr. Ciucă filed a civil suit to appeal three anonymous complaints against his 2003 thesis. The work of the investigative committee is also blocked by a parallel investigation by the main Romanian prosecutors, who seized the originals of the thesis detained by its university and the national library. “They took all the original copies and documents,” Dr Şercan said. Dr. Ciucă was approached by Times Higher Education to respond to the allegations.

Andrei Terian is Vice-Rector for Research, Innovation and Internationalization at Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu, also in Romania, and a member of the Steering Committee of the Council for Doctoral Education of the European University Association.

“Plagiarism should not be decided by a court,” he said. “It is enough … that our community of specialists unanimously agrees that this is plagiarism and that this researcher is not welcome in our community,” he said, making reference to the question in general. “It is perhaps the strongest mechanism, stronger than committees, courts and administrative structures.”

Professor Terian said that the academic community and the general public “must be constantly aware that plagiarism is a serious problem, not only for doctoral studies, but for the entire Romanian academic world and for all of Romanian society”.

Alexander Hasgall, the head of EUA’s Council for Doctoral Training, said plagiarism was now a “significant sensitivity” in doctoral training centers across Europe. In addition to providing training and creating structures detached from the supervisor-candidate relationship, universities need to improve public understanding of the problem, he said.

“It is important to think about how an audience can productively discuss cases of plagiarism given that we all depend on [the] views of experts in a certain area of ​​research,” he said. “It is important to focus on the issue of finding the plagiarism case and separate it from political discussions. Being context sensitive is important.

Over the past month, Romanian parliamentarians have twice tried to introduce a plagiarism amnesty for doctoral theses defended before 2011, which Professor Terian said was an unnecessary approach. “A zero-tolerance policy should be a non-negotiable item on the government’s agenda,” he said.

While he said Dr Şercan’s estimate of the decades needed to finally fix the problem was “valid”, he said he was optimistic that change “could be significantly accelerated” if the government had a consistent policy. of correcting legal loopholes and that the community was united in condemnation.

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Helen D. Jessen