Well done HEC!

March-2008: HEC should be commended for putting in place legislation to combat plagiarism seriously. However, this alone is not sufficient because the issue is quite complex. HEC and the universities must devise ways and means to build a strong body of opinion on campuses that acts as a watchdog against this scourge

Late last month the governor of Punjab, who is also Chancellor of Punjab University, ordered compulsory retirement of five faculty members of the Centre for Higher Energy Physics (CHEP) and suspended the Head of the Psychology Department on charges of plagiarism.

This led to an uproar in the university. The Academic Staff Association (PUASA), while paying lip service to condemning plagiarism, rejected the governor's action on the ground that it violated the university's autonomy. It argued that instead of deciding the case himself, the governor should have referred it back to the syndicate for review. It also accused him of wangling a report of his choice from the inquiry committee. Lastly, it criticised his action on the plea that it led to penalising the accused twice that, in its opinion, was contrary to the principles of justice. It threatened to launch a protest movement in case the governor did not take the decision back.

To comprehend the issue fully, we need to look at its antecedents. The controversy started last April when John Ellis, advisor to the DG, European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), complained to the VC of Punjab University against some CHEP faculty members for plagiarising an article that was under copyright. The university set up two committees one after the other to investigate the matter, both of which found the accused guilty as charged.

Acting on the findings, the university syndicate removed the CHEP Director, Prof Fazal-i-Aleem, from his position and withheld two annual increments of Assistant Professor Maqbool Ahmed and lecturers Rasheed Ahmed, Sohail Afzal Tahir and M Alam Saeed who had been found guilty. It also censured all the accused for the wrongdoing.

Upon learning of the punishments, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) was terribly upset as it considered the punishments "mild" given the gravity of the charge. It asked the VC to fire the accused and mounted pressure on him for the purpose but the latter refused to yield.

HEC then retaliated by withholding the university's annual grant that amounted to more than a hundred million rupees. It also sought the Chancellor's intervention in the matter who obliged by constituting a two-member committee composed of the VC of the University of Health Sciences, Lahore, and the Director of the PU School of Biological Sciences to investigate the charges against the five accused. It also asked the committee to probe the case of the Head of the Psychology Department who was also accused of plagiarism. The committee did as mandated and found all of them guilty as charged.

Examining the PUASA charge that the Chancellor's decision to involve himself in penalising the culprits rather than referring the case to the syndicate for review amounted to violation of the university autonomy, a reading of the PU Act of 1973 shows that it is utterly unfounded. Article 11A invests the governor with the power to review the record of the proceedings of any statutory body to satisfy himself of the "correctness, legality or propriety" of any finding and in case he is not satisfied he is entitled to "pass such orders as he may deem fit". It clearly shows that the governor was acting within his rights and that he was not under any obligation to refer the case back to the syndicate.

Here it may be pointed out that the PU administration last year accused HEC of violating its autonomy when the latter urged it to kick out the cheaters. There may be substance in the charge by the universities that HEC generally transgresses their autonomy but in this particular case, given the way PU conducted itself, it simply cannot be sustained.

For example, the university administration merely removed the Head of CHEP from the directorship, a position that he was holding till further orders as his term had expired in October 2006, but let him retain his position as DG of the School of Physical Sciences. He was not fired from his substantive job as professor. Similarly, four other culprits were let off the hook with warnings in addition to the withholding of their annual increments.

Not only that, the university registrar shamelessly defended the accused by arguing that they deserved benefit of the doubt for the absence of a clear-cut distinction between permissible copying and plagiarism and for lack of awareness of the issue on their part. He particularly supported the younger culprits by arguing that they were "talented and budding physicists of the future" as they had 173 publications in international journals to their credit and the highest impact factor.

He justified the award of mild punishments to the plagiarists on the ground that the university calendar was silent; and that there was no government legislation in the matter. The university administration, by defending the accused, thus virtually encouraged plagiarism and brought Pakistan's name into disrepute internationally.

As to the charge that the Chancellor wangled a report of his choice from the inquiry committee, it does not stick either because this was not the only committee that found the accused guilty. There were two other committees that found the faculty members of CHEP guilty. They were established not by the Chancellor but by the university administration. Similarly, the plea that it was a travesty of justice to penalise the accused twice does not hold because as shown above according to the PU Act of 1973 the Chancellor was entitled to enhance the punishment, if he deemed it necessary.

How do we explain such abominable attitude on the part of the previous university administration? The explanation for this is to be found in the university's local politics than anything else. It is reported that the former VC was involved in serious financial and administrative irregularities, which he committed in tandem with the Director of CHEP. Besides, a group of teachers closely allied with the all-powerful IJT of which the Director CHEP was a part rules the roost as it holds almost all positions of power such as the syndicate and PUASA. Through these bodies they protect the wrongdoers while the university administration acts like a silent spectator. The former VC has mercifully left but the group is still intact. That explains why the current PUASA opposes the Chancellor's decision.

Irrespective of whether or not this reading of the situation is well founded, it is undeniable that the present case is just the tip of the iceberg. Plagiarism is rampant on campuses and involves at once teachers and students. The situation may deteriorate in the future given the lure of money that is available to teachers these days.

Hence, there is a gargantuan task ahead. HEC should be commended for putting in place legislation to combat plagiarism seriously. However, this alone is not sufficient because the issue is quite complex. HEC and the universities must devise ways and means to build a strong body of opinion on campuses that acts as a watchdog against this scourge if they are to succeed.

In the meantime the PU VC, the Chancellor and HEC deserve credit for the remarkable fight in the present case, particularly the last one for its indefatigable perseverance in the matter.

Ijaz Hussain (Dialy Times)
The writer is a former dean of social sciences at the Quaid-i-Azam University. He can be reached at hussain_ijaz@hotmail.com

Your Comments

"Governor being misled by HEC on charges of plagiarism in Punjab University EMANUEL SARFRAZ LAHORE - The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan's blacklisting five faculty members of Punjab University's Centre for High Energy Physics seems to be a biased decision, as they are not considered plagiarists by the foreign institutions. Prof Dr Fazal-e-Aleem, who has earned the status of meritorious professor, Maqsood Ahmad, Rashid Ahmad, Sohail Fazal and M Alam Saeed were accused of plagiarism with respect to six different publications. All are continuing to write research papers as the American Institute of Physics never alleged plagiarism against them and continues to publish their papers. Of the six papers stated to have been plagiarised, Dr Aleem was shown as one of the authors of five of them. Interestingly he was not among the authors of the paper 'Benefits of Basic Science'. The paper 'Current status of exotic hadrons' was part of the allegations. The paper was revised through an errata handed over to the editor on April 9, 2006. This was before the complaint was lodged by Dr Mujahid Kamran then serving as dean of science at the Punjab University. The other articles 'Computational methods: Tool for Electronic Structure Analysis of Solids' and 'Path of Elementary Particles' were also retracted and the thought republished. Interestingly this fact was not considered during the inquiry. The HEC in its newsletter declared Dr Aleem and other CHEP faculty members of plagiarism even before the final decision had been made. A researcher is well within his rights to send an erratum to the publisher to rectify any mistake made by him or to add/ omit anything published in a research journal or even textbooks. Errata/Retractions are a normal and internationally acknowledged way of dealing with inadvertent mistakes, human and electronic errors and even to incorporate further developments or changes. It would be of interest to notice that Nobel Laureates like Rutherford and Chairman HEC Ataur Rehman had errata published to their research papers. Meanwhile, 'Current status of exotic hadrons' was published by AIP as part of the conference proceedings held in Cairo. Editor of the proceedings and the Program Chair Lotfia El Nadi on receiving the complaint termed it "out of place". "The paper is a review article in which the authors presented recent experiments of worldwide laboratories, not their own work. The authors do not claim any results of their own. The authors handed over errata. We consider the complaint of Dr Mujahid Kamran as out of place," she wrote to the then VC. The referring conference committee found no plagiarism. The paper 'Technology in Aid of Physics Teaching' was never published and Dr Aleem also did not participate in the conference. The paper 'Benefits of Basic Science' was published in a web magazine 'Science of Africa'. It was without and ISSN number and for this publication no credit can be claimed by the authors. It was not a research article but a popular one. The paper 'Mystery of matter' was not published in any research journal or conference. Therefore the issue of plagiarism could not be raised. Total publications of CHEP faculty members from 2004 to 2007 was more than 180. The faculty of CHEP published their research work in journals of international repute including AIP Conference Proceedings, Physical Review Letters, Physical Review D, Computational Material Science and Physica B. Last year 20 research papers were published including 'Evidence for BO', 'Evidence for the Rare Decay B+' and 'Search for Lepton Flavor Violating Decays tau +'. 'Design and performance of high uniformity linear filament electron gun' and 'Ab-intio Study of Structural Properties of III Nitrides' have been highly acclaimed. Punjab University Syndicate fully debated the issue and settled the matter with minor punishment for the four lecturers. PU sources disclosed that HEC is exerting pressure on the Punjab University to again take up the issue. As the issue has been settled by Syndicate, only the Chancellor/Governor can review the decision. According to sources the Chancellor is being misled about the whole issue. The fact that the AIP and the foreign institutions do not consider the five CHEP faculty members to be plagiarists was kept secret from the Chancellor. "PU is the oldest seat of learning and has a prestige and reputation not matched by any other institution in sub-continent. It should not come under the pressure of HEC. The stand of the PU Academic Staff Association on the matter is clear. It has voiced its concern on the growing interference of HEC in the affairs of varsity. "The new vice chancellor Dr Mujahid Kamran was the complainant against Dr Aleem and other CHEP faculty members. Dr Kamran and Dr Aleem are both professors of Physics and their careers run parallel to each other. Dr Aleem has published more than 150 papers and won many national and international awards. He did not need to plagiarize for conference papers, which has no academic value. "The whole issue was blown out of proportions and the fact that AIP and other international journals did not consider Dr Aleem and other members of CHEP faculty as plagiarists was not taken into account. It would be in the best interest of PU if the chancellor also takes into account the correspondence of foreign institutions with the then VC before taking any decision " sources said. "
Name: dawood
Email: adawood68@gmail.com
City, Country: karachi, Pakistan

"Asalm-O-Alikum Everyone, I read in the THE NEWS, this story about plight of HEC students in South Korea. http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=139409 I chat with some of my friends who recently left to Korea on same scholaship. I was surprised to know about the truthfullness of the story. How HEC offcial unethically response to students and no action is taken against them. In one university stiudents have not rceived the stipend from last three months, other recived a week back. I was also told that HEc is not allowing students Internship and PHD against bond agreemnet. All HEC offcials including Chairman knows well all details. My friends also confirmed me as printed in the NEWS story that Korean professors are not interested in having pakistani students in their labs, as they are not able to do PHD, and as well as the Korean did good thing to support Pakistani Students PHD, but HEC decline to give students permission for it. HEC is paying about 40Lakh for a PHD in Korea, and Korean universities was doing for free for exsisting pakistani students. Doing so HEC is just making prople mind more corrupt and against Pakistan. This will cause braiun drain in presnt situation. I think HEC officals instaed of saving seats. HEC started good, but now its fate it similar to other Pakistani institute due to their own deeds."
Name: Noor
Email: noor_fatima1981@yahoo.com
City, Country: UK

"HEC in Atta ur Rehman era particularly was very corrupt. inept PDS corrupt. biased and in many cases took bribe to send people abroad ( NADIM JAVED e.g) one of them. the scholars who have gone are applying for immigration abroad, particularly students in NT Australia. they plan never to return. approx 1 crore is spent on each student. GOVT should take action if they apply for residence (foreign) and do not return back. I hope the new setup will be good ."
Name: muhamad ishaq
Email: mu_ishaq@yahoo.com
City, Country: ISLAMABAD

"Of course most of the universities miss use the funds of HEC. One example is the Director Finance of UET Peshawar. He sent his son in law illegally for Phd on scholarship and every one knows this factor. Apart he is a very ******* person but still even after his retirent he is working on contract in the UET Peshawar and is engulfing the funds with the consent of the VC. If some can do any thing, its my request to please remove this person from the UET Peshawar. He is basically very ******* person. Any one can investigate the matter before taking any action and i hope that he will find this person as the most ******* person. He has given a lot of demage to the universitiy in the form of financial embuzzlements."
Name: Akbar Khan
Email: not available City, Country: Peshawar



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