University under doubt
A report by Chinese-language Mirror Media magazine, which alleged that Kaohsiung City Councilor Jane Lee (李眉蓁), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Kaohsiung mayoral by-election candidate, plagiarized her master’s degree thesis at National Sun Yat-sen University, has caused an uproar.
In my opinion, plagiarism is the wrong term: Lee’s thesis is an outright copy-and-paste job.
Although the university has issued a preliminary response, it will take four months for its review board to reach a verdict on the case. Since the information is out in the open for all to see, the public has already formed its conclusion on the matter.
National Sun Yat-sen University is southern Taiwan’s foremost seat of academic learning. If its administrators fail to come to an authoritative decision in a timely manner, there is a danger that it — and other Taiwanese universities — might suffer permanent reputational damage.
I believe that in addition to revoking Lee’s degree, the university must also investigate whether Lee’s supervising professor adequately fulfilled their responsibilities for the following reasons:
First, if a student has deliberately concealed their plagiarism, it would indeed be difficult for their supervisor to ascertain plagiarism has occurred. However, Lee’s supervisor still bears a degree of responsibility.
Second, the first part of the allegation is that Lee’s thesis, titled An Analysis on Trade Between Taiwan and China, published in 2008, plagiarized a 2004 paper by Overseas Community Affairs Council Minister Tung Chen-yuan (童振源), titled Cross Strait Political and Economic Interaction.
However, a second allegation states that Lee copied and pasted large sections from a 2000 paper by Lei Cheng-ju (雷政儒), a professor at National Taipei University’s public administration and policy department.
Lee failed to reference both papers in her thesis. Even more damning, all of the charts used in Lee’s thesis are in Lei’s paper.
In other words, all of the quantitative data used in Lee’s 2008 thesis on cross-strait trade was collected on or before 1999. Surely a responsible supervisor would have questioned why Lee was using old data and asked her why there were no statistics for the years between 2000 and 2008?
This prompts the question: Was Lee’s supervisor intentionally cutting her some slack? Perhaps this case is representative of a wider problem: A stitch-up between academia and politicians that has become normal practice at some of Taiwan’s educational institutions.
Third, if National Sun Yat-sen University cannot provide some transparency over this issue, the public will begin to suspect that Taiwan’s national-level universities have become nothing more than “diploma mills” for the wealthy and well-connected.
It must act quickly and transparently to win back public trust.
New Taipei City
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