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A year ago a professor at my department and her grad student had plagiarized a journal paper and published it. The paper was retracted, and the journal published a clear notice that it was due to serious fraud, as several paragraphs and the results were stolen (verbatim) from a previously published paper.

However, it seems that I am still the only one at my department who knows about this misconduct, probably because people do not follow that journal.

The retracted paper is still listed in the publications of both researchers in the university database and in their CVs, and what is most appalling, the grad student looks like he will get his PhD degree in a few months, based on the work of someone else. In short, it looks like no one will have any consequences, and moreover that they ignore the retraction.

As an academic I find it as a duty to expose this case, but I don’t know how to proceed, and if it's worth pursuing this. The thing is that I am not in a developed country in which universities have a firm attitude about plagiarism, and also people here at universities are politically connected and protect each other.

If notified, the head of the department (and anyone else high in the organization) probably wouldn’t like to mess with it in order to avoid conflicts and degrading the image of the institution, and since I am low in the hierarchy I cannot do much myself, and moreover I am risking my own career. But this is not something that can be swept under the carpet...

What should I do?


Thank you for the response, I did not expect this question to be so popular. While I was thinking what to do, the grad student suddenly quit. The professor did not know about the plagiarism and did not try to cover up the retraction. I don't know the details because there are only rumors, but I suspect the student was forced to quit after the professor (and co-author) became aware of this.

I am surprised with the positive outcome. I would like to underline vsz's comment: "Many people in the West underestimate how much corruption there can be at universities in less developed countries." Such turn of events is not typical for my country, so questions like mine should not be surprising...

1 Answer 1

If you were in a position of more influence (e.g. a faculty member) or if you were a student at a university where you could be confident that the general attitude coincides with your own (such as most universities in the USA or Europe, at the very least), then I wouldn't hesitate a moment to notify the dean, and escalate the case further as necessary. No respectable institution would turn a blind eye to this, not least because of the eventual embarrassment when it comes out in the press that they graduated a student whose thesis was known to be plagiarized.

It's hard for me to say what you should do in your situation, because I've never been affiliated with a place that didn't "have a firm attitude about plagiarism". But given that the indictment of plagiarism is already public, you might approach this from the angle of protecting the institution. That is, you could cautiously approach the department chair and explain that you're worried about the negative publicity the department (and the university) may be subject to based on what is happening. You don't need or want to suggest that you're going to approach the press and create that publicity -- everything is already out in the open, anyway! You also shouldn't suggest what the consequences for the plagiarists should be. You're only working to protect the good name of your institution. In this way perhaps you can address the problem with someone in authority such that you are both on the same side.