Misrepresentation and plagiarism: NWU finds 8 academics guilty

The back image of the graduates wearing a yellow tassel hat.PHOTO:
The back image of the graduates wearing a yellow tassel hat.PHOTO:

Eight academics who were implicated in allegations of plagiarism at the North West University and who still work there have been found guilty after an investigation by the university.

Three additional academics, who have since left the employ of the university, were also found guilty and will be reported to appropriate higher education structures and their universities.

This follows two exposés published by City Press in 2017.

The first story was published in July, which was followed by another in August of that year relating to allegations of plagiarism against academics in the faculty of natural and agricultural sciences based at the university’s Mafikeng and Potchefstroom campuses.

University spokesperson Louis Jacobs declined to name the academics or their faculties this afternoon, but indicated that nobody had been suspended because there was another investigation under way.

The university has Mafikeng, Potchefstroom and Vaal Triangle campuses, and the investigation ran across all three.

“Regarding five other staff members who have been implicated and who are in the employ of the university, sufficient evidence was found that pointed to misconduct. However, owing to the fact that the technical report pointed to alleged networks of possible academic collaboration among groups of researchers, the panel advised that the technical investigation be extended. The follow-up technical investigation has been concluded and would now be made available to the subject-matter expert team that would need to consider the report and would report accordingly to the external review panel,” Jacob said.

Jacobs said a prima facie case was made in regard to misrepresentation and plagiarism against two people who were implicated and who are also in the employ of the university.

“The process in regard to these staff members had been concluded by the university. In taking all evidence and circumstances into account, it was resolved to reprimand these staff members, and to instruct them to refund the university in regard of the page fees paid in respect of the publication of the implicated article,” Jacobs said.

He said prima facie evidence of plagiarism and falsification was found against another staff member.

“This was in an article written in the time before the person was employed by the university. Against the background of the preceding, the panel advised the vice-chancellor to note the evidence. The executive dean who reported the case had been informed of the advice by the external review panel,” he said.

Jacobs said it was during the university council meeting on March 18 that the university took note of the progress into the investigation, which involved 21 implicated academics.

He said the university received allegations of plagiarism against some of its academics from the Council on Higher Education on May 10 2017.

Jacobs said these allegations were viewed in a very serious light, especially when media articles were published in July of the same year that implicated other members of staff than those the university became aware of through the council.

He said vigorous processes were instituted to determine the authenticity of the allegations.

Owing to the sensitivity of the matter, Jacobs said, the university commenced with an investigation and has established a rigorous process involving the following phases:

• A technical investigation by a plagiarism expert;

• The establishment of a subject-matter expert panel to consider the technical report; and

• The involvement of an external review panel under the independent chairpersonship of a former acting judge.

He said support was also provided by an independent legal expert.

Jacobs said with regard to three other individuals who have in the meantime left the employ of the university, prima facie evidence was found pointing to academic misconduct, including plagiarism.

“Council endorsed the suggestion by the external review panel that the registrar brings to the attention of national higher education structures, the possible appropriateness of establishing a platform of information sharing on matters that violate academic integrity at the respective universities. The registrar will pursue this avenue,” Jacobs said.

In regard to 10 persons who have been implicated and who are in the employ of the university, Jacobs said, no prima facie evidence was found that pointed to plagiarism and these staff members have been informed accordingly.

He said the council again emphasised that any acts that violate academic integrity by anyone associated with the university are condemned in the strongest possible terms, and if proven true, the involved parties will be dealt with in accordance with university disciplinary measures.

Msindisi Fengu
City Press
p:+27 11 7139001
w:www.citypress.co.za  e: msindisi.fengu@citypress.co.za
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