Plagiarism is a serious ethical offence. To put it precisely, it is an "act of stealing another person's intellectual property (IP)". This offence has serious consequences. The plagiarists may be terminated from the job or get banned from publishing their papers further in the journal, for life.
Recently, three Dhaka University faculties received demotions in the form of penalty on charges of plagiarism. It is good that at least the practice of penalising for "copy-paste" culture has begun in the country. But this action has pointed out some serious questions about the quality and review process of DU journals.
Usually, in academia, academic journals are peer-reviewed. Every paper goes through a rigorous review process by an editorial board. No paper can be published without being scrutinised by at least three reviewers, two internal and one external – at least this is what we know as common practice in academia. If such is the case, how did the article go in the journal? How could such a serious offence like plagiarism have slipped through the eyes of the editorial board? What role did the editorial board play, then?
As the oldest university in the country and once known as The Oxford of the East, DU is supposed to have plagiarism checker software. The reviewers of the journal may not have ever heard of or read Michel Foucault, the famous French philosopher – extracts of whose writing was copied in two DU faculties Samia and Marjan's thesis paper; but AI knows, of course! The software could have easily caught it within a few seconds.
Does that mean DU does not use plagiarism checkers?
To find answers to these questions, this writer tried to reach out to some professors of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of the University of Dhaka, but none of them showed any interest in speaking about it.
However, about the peer-reviewed journal and liability of the editorial board, Dr Tareque Shamsur Rahman, professor of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, who was also a member of UGC, explained, "First of all, the journal in which Samia Rahman and Marjan published their research paper was not a peer-reviewed one. Secondly, plagiarism checker software has been introduced to DU very recently, in 2019-2020. However, only some PhD and MPhil papers are checked for plagiarism. Not all papers go through this process. Hence, their paper, which was published in 2016, was not checked by any software."
He further said, "To be promoted, faculties are obliged to publish a paper. And in most of the cases, they try to publish it through their known sources. These papers are never reviewed properly. Editors publish research based on their good relationship with the faculty."
The professor held the review board equally liable for this action. He said, "The university authority should interrogate the review panel for their failure to detect plagiarism before publication."
However, the IR Professor also shed some light on the loopholes in the whole system as well. According to the university promotion policy, a prerequisite for getting a promotion at the university is to serve in a particular position for three to four years, with three to four publications in a journal. It depends on the post.
In such cases, the teachers try to publish a paper in any journal with the sole purpose of getting a promotion. They rush to publish their paper anyhow. Many faculties do research not out of interest but to fulfil the criteria for the promotion.
In reply to the question, why Bangladesh is lagging behind in research even though there are funds in public universities, Dr Tareque said the problem lies with the whole system. It is very easy to become a lecturer in the country, only four first classes in all academic degrees give you a ticket to apply for a lecturer position whereas, take for an example, in Sri Lanka, it is common practice that one has to work for one year as a Research Assistant before applying for the post of Lecturer. It is mandatory.
Take for example Sabbaticals, it is mandatory in Germany and other European countries that after completing three years of teaching experience, a teacher has to go on a leave of one year and produce research work.
To stop plagiarism, the Professor said, "The university must make the use of plagiarism checkers mandatory for all. Every teacher must have access to it. And the review board also must take liability for their review process."
It is mentionable that Samia and Marjan have been charged with plagiarism for their joint research, "A New Dimension of Colonialism and Pop Culture: A Case Study of Cultural Imperialism," published in Social Science Review, the journal of the DU Faculty of Social Science in 2016.
The Islamic History and Culture faculty Muhammad Omar Faruq's PhD was cancelled in 2018 due to plagiarism charges but no academic action was taken against him back then.