Romania PM ensnared in plagiarism scandal

Associated Press Modified: June 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm •  Published: June 19, 2012
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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — His first education minister resigned for allegedly plagiarizing a book about Romania's entry into the European Union. His second quit soon afterward, also accused of copying academic work. Now, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta faces claims he plagiarized half his own doctoral thesis.

His government less than two months old, Ponta has found himself devoting an exceptional amount of time to explaining the alleged academic misdeeds of himself and his appointees. All as his country struggles through political instability and deep unhappiness over harsh austerity measures.

Some Romanians see a political vendetta at play. Others a reflection of a culture of academic cheating that sprang up after the collapse of communism, when university credentials became a way of climbing up the social ladder.

"People with ambition, money and influence have been buying doctorates for the last 20 years," said political analyst Stelian Tanase. "It looks good on their CV to have a doctorate, it's fashionable, so they buy them like they'd buy an Armani suit."

Nature said Monday that an anonymous whistle-blower had provided it with documents that indicate that more than half of Ponta's 432-page thesis, written in 2004 on the International Criminal Court, was plagiarized from the work of two Romanian law scholars.

At first Ponta denied the accusations, saying they were politically motivated. But on Tuesday he partially admitted to some of the allegations.

"The only reproach I have is that I did not list authors at the bottom of each page, but put them in the bibliography at the end," he said: "If this is a mistake, then I am willing to pay for it." He said that he would give up the title of doctor if wrongdoing was proved, but would not resign as prime minister.

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are endemic in Romania.

After communism fell in 1989 and Romania pursued free market reforms, a large number of private universities and institutes opened, offering what some say were spurious academic qualifications. Cheating starts early in Romania and is widely acknowledged as common in schools. Teachers are known to accept bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to students who copy during exams.