Open Letter Protesting the Current State of Plagiarism in Romanian Academia

R. Chris Davis's picture

Prof. Alin Fumurescu (PoliSci, U. of Houston) is collecting signatures for an open letter protesting the current state of plagiarism in Romanian academia, highlighted once again by the scandal surrounding Nicolae Ciucă’s plagiarised doctoral dissertation. See below for the recent draft of the letter. If you would like additional information about this letter and/or to add your signature, please contact with your full name and university affiliation.
For some background, see

Romanian Plagiarism: Concerns and Proposals
Open Letter Addressed to all Romanian Universities and to the Minister of Education

As professors at various American and West European universities, 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.

Plagiatul la romani: Ingrijorari si propuneri
Scrisoare deschisa adresata universitatilor romanesti si Ministerului Educatiei

Ca profesori si cercetatori la universitati si institute de specialitate din America de Nord si Europa Occidentala, urmarim cu maxima ingrijorare si crescanda dezamagire atat imixtiunea agresiva a politicului in etica academica prin recenta protectie legala a plagiatului si plagiatorilor, cat si, cu notabile exceptii, absenta unor reactii din partea celor direct afectati – Ministerul Educatiei si universitatile romanesti. Fenomenul este periculos pentru ca afecteaza intregul sistem educational si, implicit, intreaga societate romaneasca.

Pe termen scurt, victimele din prima linie sunt universitarii romani cinstiti care incearca sa isi publice lucrarile in revistele academice si editurile stiintifice recunoscute international. In ultima vreme, Romania si-a dobandit in Occident reputatia defel magulitoare de tara in care plagiatul e protejat de catre stat, asa ca cercetarile lor sunt ignorate aproape automat, ca suspecte. Este nedrept pentru cei direct afectati si este nedrept pentru intreaga societate.

Cand nu ignora complet fenomenul, atentia publica se focalizeaza aproape exclusiv pe cazurile de plagiarism ale persoanelor cu mare vizibilitate si functii publice - premieri, ministri, magistrate, etc - si doar pe lucrarile de doctorat. Aceasta tendinta este partial de inteles, dar presupune totodata ca alte cazuri de plagiat, ale unor nume mai putin cunoscute, multe din universitati, sunt trecute cu vederea. De asemenea, cazuri evidente de plagiat in reviste stiintifice, carti sau capitole de carte sunt ignorate, desi sunt la fel de scandaloase precum cele din lucrarile de doctorat.
Pentru asanarea acestei mlastini etice credem ca este nevoie de o abordare complexa, care sa includa o componenta preventiva si una reparativa, cu solutii implementabile in termen scurt, dar si cu schimbari structurale pe termen lung. In cele ce urmeaza oferim doar cateva sugestii si exemple pentru a porni o mult-prea-necesara conversatie.

Bunaoara, o abordare preventiva usor de implementat in termen scurt ar putea presupune ca toate universitatile romanesti sa-si incurajeze si, evident, ajute studentii doctoranzi sa isi ia in co- tutela indrumatori de doctorat de la universitati din strainatate, cum unele universitati au inceput deja sa faca, desi mai degraba sporadic. In afara faptului ca doctoranzii ar beneficia de pe urma unui nou nivel de expertiza, un doctorat in co-tutela ar incuraja o munca de cercetare corecta si o calitate mai buna a dizertatiei. Pe termen lung, universitatile care vor implementa intr-un mod sistematic aceasta strategie vor avea doar de profitat de pe urma unei bune reputatii atat la nivel national cat si international.

In ceea ce priveste abordarea reparativa, ce presupune penalizarea, intr-un fel sau altul, a cazurilor de plagiat deja dovedite, o solutie pe termen scurt ar putea-o reprezenta pur si simplu reactia publica a universitatilor romanesti in toate cazurile de abdicare flagranta de la standardele eticii universitare. Chiar daca momentan universitatile romanesti nu pot anula doctoratele plagiate, protejate prin lege (!), ele pot in continuare penaliza toate cazurile de plagiarism din revistele stiintifice, carti, sau capitole de carte, refuzand sau anuland publicarea lucrarilor plagiate, mergand pana la desfacerea contractului de munca a celor prinsi in flagrant delict. O asemenea atitudine publica de toleranta zero venita din partea mai multor universitati ar trimite un mesaj puternic cu reverberatii care ar depasi sfera universitara. De exemplu, Colegiul Noua Europa sau Editura Universitatii Bucuresti au recunoscut deja cazuri de plagiarism din lucrarile publicate sub egida lor si le-au eliminat imediat, anuntand public si motivul. Pentru revistele stiintifice si editurile din Romania, o asemenea atitudine nu poate decat sa le sporeasca prestigiul si, implicit pe termen lung, calitatea lucrarilor publicate.

De buna seama, solutia structurala, pe termen lung, nu poate fi obtinuta decat prin modificarea legislatiei, dar acest lucru nu e posibil decat in conditiile in care universitatile, revistele stiintifice si editurile romanesti vor reusi sa creeze un val de indignare in opinia publica impotriva legilor si practicilor din ziua de azi. Credem ca doar presiunea crescanda venita din partea opiniei publice ii poate convinge pe politicieni sa renunte la acest sistem profund corupt, adoptand o noua legislatie, atat de necesara pentru insanatosirea vietii universitare dar si a intregii societati romanesti.

Schimbarea opiniei publice, cruciala pentru schimbarile pe termen lung, nu se poate face nici cu atitudini defetiste, gen “e o cauza pierduta” si nici cu “eroisme de culise”. Ii invitam pe toti cei care cred in principiile si ideile de mai sus sa ni se alature public, semnand alaturi de noi aceasta scrisoare.