Plagiarism scandal involving Romania's Ponta deepens

27/07/2012

Victor Ponta, Romania's third prime minister this year, faces new accusations of plagiarism.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 27/07/12

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Romania Prime Minister Victor Ponta is facing a new allegation of plagiarism. [Reuters]

A Romanian commission of the Education Ministry, which drew skepticism last month by contradicting numerous findings that Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarised his doctorate thesis, is now investigating a second plagiarism charge.

The National Ethics Commission (CNE) announced on Monday (July 23rd) only that the new allegation involves a book and Ponta. It did not reveal details or identify the person filing the complaint against the prime minister, who orchestrated the president's impeachment and has already rescinded the legal authority of another panel that found merit to plagiarism allegations.

Ponta has said only the education ministry has the authority to investigate plagiarism charges against him. He dismissed previous findings against him as politically motivated.

Already, Ponta's short-lived government has drawn concern from the EU.

Ponta, head of the opposition Social Democrat Party, was appointed prime minister in April, becoming the third person this year to lead the government. He quickly began feuding with Basescu over who should represent Romania at summits with the West.

Ponta orchestrated Basescu's impeachment on July 6th on charges of overstepping his authority. Ponta's party also had two of Basescu's key allies -- the speakers of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies -- removed, and sought to limit the powers of the Constitutional Court. Romanians will vote Sunday (July 29th) in a national referendum to see if Basescu will keep his job.

The plagiarism allegations were first brought in June by the British scientific journal Nature, which reported that Ponta copied large portions of his 2003 thesis while at the University of Bucharest.

A panel of university educators unanimously confirmed the charges last month, saying the thesis "encroaches upon principles of ethics, integrity principles and the good conduct in research." The panel will submit a proposal to the university senate to annul Ponta's doctorate degree.

The CNE cleared Ponta of plagiarism on June 27th, but a third panel, the Romanian National Council for Attestation of University Titles, concluded the next day that the thesis had been plagiarised. Ponta responded by rescinding the council's legal authority.

The conflicting rulings left Ponta's credibility in question.

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"To me, the university's decision is more relevant and objective," Stefan Vlaston, the head of the Association for Education and Research which deals with education reform, told SETimes. "The members of CNE received the decision in an envelope and no one really knows how this board really worked to reach its conclusion. The other two commissions are more credible because they are made of professionals."

Still, others see positive effects of the decision taken by the ethics board of the Bucharest University.

"But for this decision, we would have had big problems in evaluating students in the future – all those caught plagiarizing would have invoked the Ponta precedent," Virgil Iordache, a professor with the Biology Faculty of the Bucharest University, told SETimes. "Plagiarism and copying are a plague among the students. A consequence of this decision is that the higher education standards will increase and that will apply for all."

Edmund Niculusca, the head of the Romanian Association for Cultural, Education and Normality, put the plagiarism scandal in a broader context. "If the prime minister cheated, why won't students do the same? Why won't we all do the same?" he said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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