Nantou County commissioner candidate Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華), of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), has been accused of plagiarism on a thesis, and the allegations are backed by plenty of evidence.
However, Feng Chia University’s academic ethics review committee has said that Hsu’s thesis did not seriously contravene academic ethics, so it did not revoke her degree, despite the document including passages that were apparently copied from other sources without citation.
On the other hand, former Democratic Progressive Party Taoyuan mayoral candidate Lin Chih-chien’s (林智堅) master’s degrees were revoked by National Taiwan University and Chung Hua University for plagiarism, which shows that universities have drastically different review processes and standards. The differences are beyond comprehension.
Lin’s case highlights a double standard at his alma maters, as the universities have handled other cases concerning academic ethics more leniently.
Due to the Ministry of Education’s ineffective regulations, academic ethics review committees lack a common standard and transparency.
The ministry should take full responsibility. Ministry officials, including Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠), Chief Secretary Liao Hsin-kuo (廖興國) and those in the Department of Higher Education, failed to act.
The ministry should take the issue seriously and take the initiative now, because it is better late than never.
The “Principles for Handling Academic Ethics Cases at Junior Colleges and Institutions of Higher Education” (專科以上學校學術倫理案件處理原則) should be amended immediately. Every review committee should include a member appointed by the ministry and a representative of the university’s faculty evaluation committee.
There is also no reason that the names of the committee members should be kept confidential, and their findings should be open to the public.
The reason is simple: Should, for example, lay judges be required to wear a mask to ensure that defendants and other attendants of trials cannot recognize them so that they cannot seek revenge? Of course not. It would also be unacceptable to inform those involved in a criminal trial of the court’s decision without providing the full verdict.
Should the person whose thesis is being reviewed by an ethics committee disagree with the result, they should be able to appeal directly to the ministry, rather than apply for another review by the university. The ministry should organize a standing reconsideration committee to investigate such cases. Once it finalizes a decision, the university should handle the case accordingly.
A special budget should be allotted for universities and colleges to assess the quality of their students’ theses and dissertations. In the first half of each year, all theses and dissertations of in-service degree programs should be examined, and in the second half, those of regular degree programs should be reviewed. The assessments should be handled impartially, and the ministry should be informed of the results.
These measures would help preserve the reputation of the higher education system and prevent plagiarism from taking center stage every election cycle.
It is imperative to review the system of recurrent education. If in-service master’s programs remain as popular as they are, the Degree Conferral Act (學位授予法) should be revised, and universities should be authorized to determine whether a thesis is required to complete master’s programs.
This would solve the problem once and for all.
Huang Rongwen is a professor at National Changhua University of Education.
Translated by Liu Yi-hung
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