The University of Hyderabad and its vice-chancellor, Appa Rao Podile, have been in the news a great deal lately. Unfortunately, not much of it has been positive.
In recent months, protests on the campus have erupted following the suicide of a campus scholar that is widely blamed on the school’s administration and caste discrimination.
In January, as the protests reached a climax, Podile took a “long leave” from the campus in an effort to help to restore calm. However, when he returned in March, the protests flared up anew and led to clashes between protesters and police.
The protests by students as well as strikes by the faculty and staff continue, much of the anger targeted at Podile and his administration. However, the attacks so far have targeted his leadership but a new discovery puts his academics squarely in the crosshairs as well.
The Wire recently presented Podile with evidence that three papers he was listed as a coauthor on contained instances of plagiarism. The papers, published between 2007 and 2014, contained relatively small amounts of copied text, ranging from a few sentences in one paper to just one sentence in another.
Podile says that the plagiarism was not intentional and he has taken full responsibility for the mistakes promising, if they plagiarized the data from other publications, that he will retract the papers and will apologize for any other sources they may have omitted. Podile also said that, in the future, he will use the “appropriate software” to check his work for errors.
But while any copied and uncited text is potentially worrisome, it’s very unlikely that this plagiarism would have attracted nearly as much attention without the controversies previously surrounding Podile. This is especially true in India where the country’s academics have been working to turn the tide of rampant plagiarism and over half of all doctors claim to have observed plagiarism.
While it’s likely a review of his work would have detected the passages, it certainly wouldn’t have been national news.
However, that’s very much the nature of plagiarism. It tends to remain a largely academic affair until it’s attached to someone of prominence. While Senator John Walsh was not the first person to lose his degree over plagiarism, it became a national story as he was forced to drop out of a hotly-contested re-election campaign.
It can be difficult, if not impossible, to tell when ethical failings and mistakes in research can catch up to an academic. Joe Biden likely thought that his plagiarism ordeal at Syracuse University was in the past when he was running for President. However, that too turned out to be the nail in the coffin for a campaign.
This is a key part of why it’s so important to perform high quality research and take steps, including using plagiarism detection tools, to avoid uncited material. Even if a work is accepted and it seems like the plagiarism is in the past, it very often comes up again, usually at the worst times.
Whether you’re a German politician, the head of a Russian university or a UK TV celebrity, plagiarism has a way of coming back at the least opportune times. Basically, if people have a reason to look for plagiarism, they will and if it’s there, with modern technology, they will find it.
In 2016, it’s simply not worth the risk.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.