Allegations that Hsinchu Mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) plagiarized his 2008 master’s thesis were a hot topic in the news this week.
If Lin had not been nominated to run for Taoyuan mayor, such a trivial report would not have been newsworthy.
However, elections commonly raise accusations of plagiarism linked to candidates, whether they graduated from top universities, private universities or universities of technology.
As an educator, I lament the stigmatization of higher education in Taiwan.
Kaohsiung City Councilor Jane Lee (李眉蓁), who was the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate in the 2020 Kaohsiung mayoral by-election, was also accused of plagiarism. The difference between Lee and Lin is that Lee’s thesis adviser refrained from commenting on the matter after an author who Lee allegedly copied from filed a lawsuit against her.
In contrast, Lin’s advisers at National Taiwan University and Chung Hua University have presented evidence that Lin did not do what he has been accused of.
Because of Lee’s case, the Ministry of Education sent letters urging universities and colleges to raise the bar regarding examination committees and review processes for in-service graduate programs.
At my university, for example, before students apply for a thesis defense exam, their work goes through a verification system to scan for plagiarism. After verification, students sign a statement declaring that their work does not contravene academic research ethics, which is submitted with the verification result and their advisers’ signature.
Professors on the examination committee have requirements to meet. First, their field of study must relate to the student’s area of specialization. Second, they must be current or former professors, associate professors or assistant professors. Other rigorous requirements include a submission of department affairs’ meeting minutes detailing their eligibility criteria as an examiner.
Those who pull strings with advisers or unendorsed faculty members from outside the university are not fit to be on a panel.
In Lee’s plagiarism scandal, the adviser bore the most responsibility. Advisers play a significant role in determining whether a student has met the requirements for graduation and can have a degree conferred.
From the choosing of a thesis topic, appointments and scheduling, and review and revision of a draft thesis, to a thesis defense invitation, Lee’s adviser would have supervised her at every step of the process.
However, Lee’s outrageous misconduct was appalling — almost all of her thesis was copied. An adviser who claimed ignorance of her misdeeds would be derelict in duty.
If it was acquiescence, then the adviser should be considered incompetent and ousted from academia.
Politicians should stop the mudslinging. Do not let one rotten apple spoil the whole barrel. Leave higher education out of political conflicts.
Huang Rongwen is a professor at National Changhua University of Education.
Translated by Rita Wang
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