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Romania’s PM may be the latest in a long line of academic miscreants

Romania’s PM may be the latest in a long line of academic miscreants

Would a few quotation marks really have hurt Victor Ponta? The new Romanian prime minister is the latest to be in the dock over plagiarism changes,after Nature magazine found that his doctoral thesis on the International Criminal Court cribbed entire sections from two Romanian law scholars. Ponta claims that he preferred endnotes to footnotes but if he has failed to separate his own writing from theirs,he has committed the cardinal academic sin. Two education ministers in Romania have recently quit in succession,also accused of academic plagiarism.

Some have seen this as an integrity deficit in the educational system in post-communist Romania. As academic achievement became commodified,they say,it became easier to buy degrees,cheating became rampant,even as academic credentials remained valuable. However,Romania is no exception. Gaddafi’s son,Saif al-Islam,it was recently discovered,had little personal contribution to his LSE thesis. European politicians who have been singed by plagiarism scandals include German politicians Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg,Jorgo Chatzimarkakis and Silvana Koch-Mehrin,and former Hungarian president Pal Schmitt. US Vice-President Joe Biden has been accused of plagiarism in law school. It’s possible that India,too,has its share of heavy lifters among politicians — we have certainly had our share of academic plagiarism exposés.

While universities and workplaces now see plagiarism in morally absolute terms,it wasn’t always so. Originality and theft are not opposing concepts,and creativity often rests on borrowing. However,academic dishonesty is a different matter — it is not a matter of intellectual influences,but about the fundamental obligation to flag other people’s insights,to cite your sources. Ponta’s alleged scholarly fraudulence may not only blight his own political career,it could also discredit Romania’s once-formidable science and education system.