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As professors and researchers at various universities and scholarly institutions in North America and Western Europe, we observe with deep concern and increasing disappointment both the aggressive intervention of politics into academic ethics through the newly implemented legal protection of plagiarism and plagiarists, and, with a few notable exceptions, the absence of any reaction from those directly affected by the current state of things – the Minister of Education and Romanian universities. This is a dangerous phenomenon that is detrimental to the entire educational system and, in consequence, to the entire Romanian society.
In the short term, the principal victims are those honest Romanian scholars who attempt to publish their work in internationally recognized academic journals and with internationally recognized publishers. Lately, Romania has acquired the undesirable reputation of a country in which plagiarism is protected by the state and, as such, therefore the research of Romanian academics is ignored almost by default, as inherently suspicious. This situation is unfair to honest scholars, and it is unfair for the whole of society.
When public opinion does not entirely ignore the phenomenon, its attention is focused almost exclusively on the cases of plagiarism involving public figures in office – prime ministers, cabinet ministers, members of the judiciary – and only on doctoral dissertations. This to a certain extent is understandable, but it means that lesser-known names, in particular from Romanian universities, fall under the radar. It also means that other blatant cases of plagiarism in academic journals, monographs, and book chapters are mostly ignored, even though they are equally outrageous.
We believe that draining this ethical swamp requires a multi-faceted approach, with a preemptive and a reparatory component, as well as short-term and long-term solutions. What follows are just a few suggestions and examples, intended as a starting point to a much-needed conversation.
For example, a preemptive approach easy to implement in short term could be for all major universities to encourage and assist their doctoral students to have as co-advisor a reputed foreign scholar, as some Romanian universities have just started doing, although mostly sporadically. Besides benefitting from a new level of expertise, such practice would encourage honest research endeavors and would ensure a higher quality of academic work. In the long run, the universities systematically implementing this strategy will benefit from their increased reputation, both nationally and internationally.
As for the reparative approach, which presupposes some form of penalty in case of proven cases of plagiarism, a short-term solution could entail, at its most basic, a public-facing reaction from the Romanian universities in all cases of blatant departure from the standards of academic ethics. Even as of now the Romanian universities cannot nullify plagiarized doctoral dissertations, which are legally protected (!), they still have the ability to penalize all other cases of plagiarism in academic journals, monographs, and book chapters, refusing or cancelling publication of such plagiarized works and firing or breaking contracts with those guilty of plagiarism. A public policy of zero-tolerance would send a powerful message that would echo beyond the academic world. For example, the New Europe College and Bucharest University Press have already acknowledged cases of plagiarism in their published works and retracted them, publicly announcing the reason. For all Romanian academic journals and publishing houses such an attitude can only enhance their reputation and, implicitly in the long run, the quality of their publications.
Needless to say, the long-term structural solution can only be reached by modifying the legislation, which will be possible only if universities, academic journals, and publishing houses would succeed in stirring up a wave of public indignation against the current laws and practices. We believe that only the strong pressure from public opinion could persuade Romanian politicians to renounce this deeply corrupted system, and to vote for a new legislation, so necessary for the healing not only of academic life but of the whole of Romanian society.
A change of public opinion, crucial for all long-term changes, will be accomplished neither with a defeatist ‘this-is-a-lost-cause’ attitude, nor with behind-the-scenes heroisms. We invite all who believe in the principles and ideas enumerated above to publicly join us by co-signing this letter, using this link.
Read the Romanian version of the letter here.
Un newsletter pentru cititori curioși și inteligenți.Sunt curios
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