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News 29 May 17

Law Easing Penalties for Plagiarism Shocks Croat Academics

Croatian Education Minister Pavo Barisic's move to push for a law that takes a more lenient approach towards people found guilty of plagiarism has appalled many academics.

Sven Milekic
Pavo Barisic. Photo: Beta

A proposed new law on science and higher education in Croatia that will allow persons who plagiarised scientific papers to keep their academic status has angered prominent members of Croatia's academic community.

The new law, currently undergoing public debate, has been pushed by Science and Education Minister Pavo Barisic - who himself has had problems over alleged acts of plagiarism.

While the law previously obliged proven plagiarists automatically to surrender their academic status, the new law will allow them to keep it if their faculty or institution allows them to – which is being presented as a way to enhance the autonomy of such institutions.

Vlatko Silobrcic, former head of the ethics committee within the state agency for science and higher education - the highest state body monitoring ethical values in science - says the idea is appalling.

“Catastrophe. You don’t even have to ask me,” he told BIRN, explaining that it would likely be seen as a move to protect plagiarists,“even though it may not look like that at first".

 “It looks as if the decisive power is being given to the faculty or the institution where the issue is at hand [the alleged act of plagiarism]," he said, "but in all my experience ... these lower levels [of faculties] are absolutely prone to corruption and all possible bad things connected to clientelism and conflicts of interest.”

 “This is really awful,” agreed Tomislav Pletenac, a professor of ethnology and cultural anthropology at Zagreb’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“This is especially awful because of the possibility that somebody who has plagiarised [work] will be given the possibility to remain in science and keep his scientific status,” he added.

“If such a thing is implemented, it only shows what state our academic society is in, and society in general,” he told BIRN.

As Pletenac explained, the proposal also lowers the participation of students in decision-making processes at universities, as well as allowing people over 65 to hold senior academic posts – a move widely believed to be designed to keep Zagreb University Rector Damir Boras, who is now 65 years old, in place.

Silobrcic stepped down in December, after the commission found that Barisic had plagiarised part of his scientific paper, claiming that the system was "powerless to fight plagiarizers".

Back then, he also told BIRN that one reason for quitting was “the inability to resolve the case of Minister Barisic”.

Opposition MPs filed a no-confidence motion in Barisic, but he stayed on as minister after the majority of MPs supported him in February.

Germany's University of Augsburg is currently reviewing Barisic’s doctoral thesis after he was reported for so-called auto-plagiarism – plagiarising his own work without referencing it.

Some maintain that Barisic is now trying to change the law before Augsburg University decides on his own case - which he has denied.

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