In Peru, a presidential candidate is facing allegations of plagiarism that may cost him more than his doctorate - they could result in him being barred from the upcoming elections.
The story centers around Peruvian entrepreneur and politician Cesar Acuña. In 2009, Acuña received a Doctorate of Education from the Complutense University of Madrid. However, in the run up to the election, several users on Twitter began to raise alarms that portions of the thesis he submitted, entitled “Teacher competence and student achievement at the private university in Peru”, had been copied without citation from other sources.
This prompted several media outlets to follow up and discover that portions of it were copied from documents from at least eight institutions including the World Health Organization, the University of Chile and the University of Barcelona.
Now, because of those allegations, the university is conducting their own investigation and have said that they may revoke his PhD should they find that Acuña failed to turn in an original work or committed any other lapse of academic integrity.
But the problems for Acuña may not end at his degree. According to the president of Peru’s National Jury of Electors, should his PhD be revoked, they would consider it a falsehood and that they could then bar Acuña from the race entirely.
Acuña, according to a recent poll, has 13 percent of the country’s support in the upcoming election. His removal from the election is widely seen as a boost for current frontrunner, Keiko Fujimori, who currently has approximately 33 percent of the vote and is hoping to avoid a runoff election.
Despite being behind in the Presidential race, Acuña has had great success in politics and business in the past. He was twice elected mayor of the city of Trujillo, a city with about one million residents, and founded the political party Alliance for Progress, which he is currently running under.
On the campaign trail, Acuña has made education a top priority, pledging 6 percent of the nation’s GDP to education should he be elected. Acuña also owns three private universities in the country and has regularly credited education as playing a role in his own rags-to-riches story.
Though Acuña’s stated love for education makes the plagiarism allegations seem more incredible, in 2013 at a book fair in Lima, Acuña told reporters that he never reads or writes, causing controversy among the nation’s educators.
Acuña has not responded to the allegations but has removed the thesis involved from his Scribd account. But, if he does lose his degree and is barred from the election, it would be a very unique situation.
In the past, we have seen many candidates withdraw from or lose elections following plagiarism allegations, such as Senator John Walsh in 2014 and Joe Biden in 1987. We’ve also seen cases where sitting politicians have resigned following the loss of a degree, such as with multiple German politicians. However, we are yet to see a case where a nation bars a candidate from running because of fraud related to plagiarism.
Obviously, if he does lose his degree and is barred from the election, it would be a tough hit for Acuña. Though he has a history of bouncing back from various scandals and controversies, with so much of his career hinging on his love for education, this could be a tough one even for him to move past.
That’s because these allegations hit at the very core of everything Acuña claims he has stood for, both as a businessman and as a politician. His business, his degree and even his thesis are all focused on education.
If found to be true, these will be much more difficult than other controversies he’s faced. If he is barred from this election on grounds of plagiarism, it will be difficult for him to even find hope for a run in the 2021 campaign.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.