Kaohsiung City Councilor Jane Lee’s (李眉蓁) master’s thesis is a hot topic of conversation, given that she is the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election.
Everyone is shocked that Lee could get a master’s degree from National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU) with a thesis that was allegedly almost completely plagiarized. Ministry of Education figures show that Taiwan had only 13 cases of plagiarized university theses from 2014 to 2018, an average of fewer than three cases per year, but after the revelations about Lee’s thesis, can people still believe this?
When submitting it, Lee had selected not to have the university release her thesis internally or externally, and she might have thought that nobody would ever read it. If she had not decided to stand in the by-election, maybe nobody would have gone to the National Central Library to peruse the paper manuscript of her thesis.
This incident has accidentally opened a Pandora’s box regarding the nation’s academia, whose true face can be seen from three perspectives.
First, how many theses lying in a corner of the National Central Library are marked as being not for release on or off campus? If the ministry wished to investigate, it could ferret out all of the problematic theses within a few months, but does it have the will to do it?
Second, at the beginning of this year, the media reported about an NSYSU student who plagiarized a thesis from the Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology. Tantalizing about the case is the still unknown identity of the whistle-blower. Who would know that a hot-off-the-press thesis was a near copy of another?
Some people suspected that the parties involved could not agree on a price for ghostwriting the thesis, or that the ghostwriter reported it because they only received the down payment and not the balance due.
Some also suspect that Lee’s thesis was written by someone else, which would explain why she could not answer any questions about the content of her own thesis. It certainly looks as though there is a big thesis-ghostwriting industry in Taiwan.
If so, the industry must be shielded by professors at various universities — otherwise, students who use such services would have a difficult time passing their oral defense.
Will the ministry investigate which professors might know about this, or do some professors engage in ghostwriting themselves?
Third, why did two serious cases of plagiarism happen at NSYSU? Many NSYSU students feel that their university’s reputation has been undeservedly damaged, but is it really just a coincidence?
Readers might like to take a look at the Wikipedia entry for NSYSU founding president Lee Huan (李煥).
His elder son, Lee Ching-chung (李慶中), was at one time deputy minister of the Environmental Protection Administration, but he resigned in 1993 for having cheated in the Grade A Civil Service Special Examination. Lee Huan’s elder daughter, Lee Ching-chu (李慶珠), used to be a department head at the Overseas Community Affairs Council, but her Grade A Special Examination qualification was canceled in 1994 because of plagiarism in her thesis. In 2018, Lee Huan’s younger son, Lee Ching-hua (李慶華), fled after being charged with corruption and his whereabouts are unknown.
Could Lee Huan really not have known about Lee Ching-chu’s thesis plagiarism? Lee Huan later served as minister of education and premier, although in those days, there was no distinction between the ruling party — the KMT — and the state, and thesis plagiarism was a common occurrence. Considering who was in charge, ministry officials can perhaps be forgiven for not being able to investigate.
Chu Hsueh-ting is an associate professor in Asia University’s department of computer science and information engineering.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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