Romania’s Constitutional Court rules that plagiarists can retain their doctoral degree
Romania’s Constitutional Court has decreed that the Ministry of Education can withdraw a doctoral degree only under very specific circumstances. If those circumstances aren’t met, a doctoral degree can still be withdrawn after a final court verdict, which can take years, even if the doctoral thesis proves to have been plagiarized. The Constitutional Court’s decision equals amnesty to all the plagiarists in Romania, says awarded journalist Emilia Sercan, who has unveiled dozens of plagiarism cases among state officials.
During its June 8 sitting, the Constitutional Court accepted the unconstitutionality objection raised by certain members of the Government with regards to line b) of Article 170 of the National Act on Education No 1/2011.
The article in question states that „In case of non-compliance with the standards of quality or professional ethics, the Ministry of Education, Research, Youth and Sports, based on external evaluation by the National Council for the Accreditation of University Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates, the Council for Ethics and University Management or the National Council for Ethics in Scientific Research, Technological Development, and Innovation, may take the following measures, alternatively or simultaneously:
- a) withdrawal of the status of doctoral supervisor;
- b) withdrawal of the doctoral title;
- c) withdrawal of the accreditation of the doctoral school, which implies the withdrawal of the right of the doctoral school to organize an admission contest for the selection of new doctoral students.”
According to the press release they issued on Wednesday, the Constitutional Court ruled that line b) is “constitutional to the extent that they refer to the withdrawal of a person's doctoral title only if it has not entered into the civil circuit and has not produced any legal consequences.”
Emilia Șercan, an investigative journalist and lecturer at the University of Bucharest's Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences, has published investigations into several high-level cases of plagiarism, including that of current Constitutional Court judge Bogdan Licu and, more recently, that of prime minister Nicolae Ciucă, after which she accused the state authorities of trying to discredit her through "kompromat." She believes that the Constitutional Court’s decision is a big step in the wrong direction.
Following the Court’s announcement, Mrs. Șercan posted this on her Facebook page: “So much for academic integrity in this country. The Constitutional Court of Romania has just granted en masse amnesty to all the plagiarists in Romania, who from now on will not be stripped of their doctorate on the grounds of plagiarism. What has been plagiarized so far will stay that way. It will become a national asset, it will become part of the country's cultural heritage!”
She expanded her point by outlining the consequences of the Court’s ruling, explaining that a doctoral title has entered the civil circuit and automatically produced legal consequences the moment it has been officially awarded. Thusly, “a doctoral degree obtained based on a plagiarized doctoral thesis can now only be withdrawn before the Minister of Education has signed the ministerial order awarding the degree”.
Henceforth, the only way a plagiarised Ph.D. may be withdrawn is as the result of a definitive court verdict. Moreover, the plagiarist can only be sued by the educational institution that issued the doctorate, or by the person who was the subject of the plagiarism, and this legal action can only be brought within one year of the date the doctorate was issued.
Other comments on this situation were made by the former president of the Constitutional Court Augustin Zegrean, who told Euronews Romania that “by the time a doctoral degree is issued, it has produced legal effects. If this is the case, the ruling means doctoral titles can no longer be revoked. The Ministry will have to address the judicial system and as it goes through the system, it might take 3, 4, 5,10 years before a title is revoked. During this time the plagiarist is working as a professor or is benefiting from an increased salary due to their doctoral status. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court’s decision does not do good, it does bad.”
Save Romania Union (USR), the main opposition party, commented that prime minister Ciucă has been “saved” by the Constitutional Court’s decision and likened the concept of keeping one’s plagiarized doctoral title to a thief getting to keep a stolen car.
Ciucă is not Romania's first prime minister accused of plagiarism. The first high-profile case was that of former PM and PSD leader Victor Ponta.
(Photo source: Inquam Photos / Octav Ganea)