Academic plagiarism and the wider world
Academics are used to discussions about the nature and implications of plagiarism, both on the part of students and occasionally by staff. But just occasionally plagiarism that had its origins in academic exercises creates waves in the wider world. This week has provided a major example. The German Defence Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, has had to give up his doctoral title in the face of allegations that he used but did not credit some of the sources in his PhD thesis. The thesis in question was submitted in 2006 and was later published in 2009. The actual extent of the alleged plagiarism is small in the overall context of a 1,000 page work, but as he could not refute the allegations he was forced to hand back his doctorate. For now at least, he will retain his government post, but he may find that his career has been seriously affected.
His is not the first non-academic career to have been hit by allegations of academic plagiarism. Last year a candidate for the post of Governor in Maine was seriously affected by allegations of plagiarism, which prompted him to fire on of his own staffers who, he said, was responsible for providing the allegedly copied materials.
Within the university sector an Australian vice-chancellor, David Robinson, had to resign a few years ago when the media picked up cases of plagiarism on his part that had been established some years earlier.
As universities often struggle with plagiarism by students, it may be worth reminding them that when they are found to have plagiarised this has the potential to leave a trail that can seriously damage them later in their professional lives. It is a matter to be taken seriously.
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