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KU plagiarism & HEC 'zero-tolerance' policy

The copycat chairman who defies KU zero tolerance policy
Karachi, April 26, 2008: Despite high claims by the Higher Education Commission and the University of Karachi that it has adopted a policy of "zero-tolerance" on plagiarism, one academic has not only seen his PhD thesis approved despite being under this cloud but has also been made chairman of a prestigious department.

The much talked of case, though dormant for some couple of years, is that of Dr Mahmood Ghaznavi, the Chairman of the Department of Mass Communication (MCD). Dr Ghaznavi has been accused of plagiarizing the research work of one of his colleagues in the same department and the irony is that he has gotten away with this.

While this accusation was proven true, the matter was swept under the carpet and Dr Ghaznavi not only received his PhD degree but was later also appointed as chairman of the department. The KU administration is at a loss to explain why this was allowed to happen.

According to a professor who requested anonymity, Dr Ghaznavi "borrowed" 90 percent of the research work of his colleague for his PhD thesis. The research work was originally of Dr Tahir Masood, also of the MCD.

Dr Masood did his PhD research on the topic "Urdu Sahafat Unneesveen Sadee Mein" (Urdu Journalism in the Nineteenth Century) and for this he travelled to India and did research by digging up materials at libraries in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Delhi, Patna and at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Academics say that Dr Masood's work on Urdu journalism is highly regarded and his earned him a PhD.

At the time, Dr. Ghaznavi was also conducting his research. The topic of his PhD thesis was "Urdu Sahafat Mein Zabaan Aur Usloob Ka Irteqa" (Evolution of Language and Diction in Urdu Journalism).

His supervisor was Dr. Moinuddin Aqeel. But Dr Aqeel left for Japan in between to teach Urdu there and Prof Younus Hasny was appointed as the new supervisor of Dr Ghaznavi. after doing the required work, Dr Ghaznavi submitted his thesis to the Board of Advanced Studies and Research (BASR) and soon after received his PhD degree.

Problems surfaced, however, when a copy of the thesis landed in the MCD library as per practice.

Dr Tahir Masood happened to read the thesis and was surprised to see that his colleague had included a large portion his (Dr. Masood's) research in his thesis without any attribution.

Taken aback by this blatant act, Dr Masood angrily wrote a letter to university Vice Chancellor Dr. Zafar Zaidi. Dr Zaidi, who was was equally angry when he read the thesis, ordered that the theses of both the researchers be re-examined.This exercise proved that Dr Ghaznavi had indeed engaged in the plagiarism.

Soon after, Dr Ghaznavi's supervisor, Prof Younus Hasny, also conceded this irregularity. After this admission, a meeting was held between Dr Tahir Masood and Dr Mahmood Ghaznavi which was also attended by Prof Hasny and the Chairman of the MCD. It was decided that Dr Masood should point out the places where Dr Ghaznavi had plagiarised and the latter would rewrite these portions and quote Dr Masood as the source. By academic standards the world over, this is a highly irregular practice. Usually plagiarism results in summary dismissal of the guilty academic.

However, the thesis was resubmitted to the supervisor and Dr Tahir Masood was then asked to and wrote a letter to the VC "pardoning" Dr Ghaznavi and withdrawing his earlier complaint against him. Dr Masood also extracted a promise that Dr Ghaznavi will not publish his thesis, to which the latter agreed.

But the fact remained that Dr Ghaznavi's re-written thesis was not re-submitted to the BASR and the plagiarist was allowed to go unpunished. He became a professor and subsequently the chairman of the MCD in the years to follow.

While it is understandable that academics at KU want to forget the issue, others ask why no action was taken by the HEC or the KU administration. Too add insult to injury, the person was promoted in what is seen as an unprecedented abuse of academic privilage.

Some academics point out that since KU is the home university of HEC chairman, Dr Atta Ur Rehman, the matter was quickly forgotten. Academics of other universities have been blacklisted by the HEC, they say.

Dr Tahir Masood said that the offence was "a bit old" and the offender had already "endured mental anguish and was sorry for his act" and asked that the matter be left alone. "I have forgiven him. Why are we taking out the skeletons from the cupboard?" he asked.

The problem, say others, is that not only is a bad example been set but the MCD has become a laughing stock in acadmic circles. Many students find this humiliating.

We talked to Dr Jamil Jalibi, the former Vice Chancellor of the university who conducted viva voce exam for both Dr. Tahir Masood and Dr Mahmood Ghaznavi and asked his views because he had read the theses of both the researchers. "Yes, I had read both the theses and found out that Dr Ghaznavi had lifted the research of Dr Tahir Masood. I informed the BASR about the discrepancy and he (Ghaznavi) was asked to rewrite the theses taking out the work of Dr Masood from it. His supervisor Dr Younus Hasany was also taken in confidence. The degree was kept on a hold till the removal of the stolen parts of the thesis", Dr Jalibi recalled.

He also talked about the deal between the two researchers and Dr Tahir Masood asking Ghaznavi to remove the references taken from his (Dr Masood's thesis) and not to publish it in future.

Dr Younus Hasany, ex Chairman of the department of Urdu, agreed that he had found the addendum with his thesis a true copy of Dr Tahir Masood's and he informed Dr Zafar Zaidi about it. "I advised Dr Ghaznavi that he should rewrite the addendum. But in all fairness it was not a big deal. The thesis would have been complete even after the removal of the addendum", Dr Hasany claimed.

He further said that Dr Zafar Zaidi, the VC at the time, appointed two examiners to check the theses of both the teachers. The examiners, according to Dr Hasany, exonerated Dr Ghaznavi from the charges of plagiarism and recommended that the PhD degree should be issued to him. But this seems not to be the widely held interpretation of events.

A senior professor and chairman of a department in Faculty of Arts said, "The fact is that Dr Ghaznavi stole five chapters from Dr Masood's thesis, presented it as his own research and received his PhD degree. There are some stakeholders who are the birds of same feather. They encouraged this moral crime and now they are defending him", the harshness his voice was surprising. Would he vouch for it? Yes, he would and many teachers would collaborate to it, he said firmly.

We talked to several MCD graduates and Final Year students. Most of them pleaded anonymity.

They said that Dr Ghaznavi should have resigned instead of hiding behind various excuses. "Look sir, it is disgusting what he did and the fact that he was then made chairman of the department is insult to injury," a graduate of the department confided. Yet another MCD graduate who works with a TV channel vented her anger: "It is embarrassing. Sometimes my colleagues in the office who are from other departments make fun of me and other MCD fellows."

Dr Mahmood Ghaznavi refused to meet the scribe to tell his side of the story. We requested him several times for a meeting and also used the good offices of two senior professors of the department but they were also returned with the message that 'I will not talk to the reporter as I know that I would be misquoted'. He also expressed his apprehension that he was being tormented by some journalists for some specified and unspecified reasons. The News
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