Fake doctor

2008-03-04 00:00

THE incidence of plagiarism is a growing concern in academic and media circles. It is becoming increasingly prevalent in an electronic age where the Internet offers far wider opportunities for it. The inviolablity of intellectual copyright is very important and it is the responsibility of all institutions to exercise the highest degree of vigilance against any infringements of it.

While it is difficult to plagiarise a skill as is required in art, music or drama, plagiarism with regard to the written word is especially problematic. Journalists taking employment with this newspaper, for instance, are now required to sign a pledge that they will not engage in it and can expect dismissal if they do.

There will be general satisfaction, therefore, that Chippy Shaik, brother of convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, has been stripped of his plagiarised and consequently fraudulent doctorate in mechanical engineering awarded in 2003. The Sunday Times can take credit for its initial exposure nine months ago. Such an exposé is another mark of the value of a free press. So, too, can the University of KwaZulu-Natal take credit for its exhaustive international investigation — the material Chippy copied was eventually traced to a book in the Moscow library which had been published in 1987.

On the other hand, the fact remains that the degree was awarded. Are the university’s controls sufficiently rigorous? Can such fraud be detected when the material copied was presumably in cyrillic script and when, it would appear, Chippy’s supervisor was complicit in the plagiarism?

Professor Viktor Verijenko, the Ukrainian-born former head of the UKZN’s School of Mechanical Engineering, his supervisor and one of the five authors of the material copied, resigned within days of the Sunday Times’s story last year. He and Chippy were close — Chippy was the best man at his wedding, for instance — and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Chippy had bribed his professor.

The whole seedy affair casts yet further mud on the tattered reputation of the Shaik family. Clearly a lack of integrity would appear to be a familiar characteristic. And it casts major aspersions on the appointment of Chippy Shaik to head the arms deal procurement programme and, indeed, on the whole dubious arms deal itself.

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