Plagiarism: Much more than storm in Tee cup

By Dr. Lim Teck Ghee | Monday, 25 November 2013 00:43

The case of prominent Utusan Malaysia columnist, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, who has been accused of plagiarism should be of public concern for several reasons.

Firstly, within academia, there are few worst sins than plagiarism. The term “sin” may appear to be too strong but Ridhuan Tee who, regularly from his Utusan Malaysia pulpit, dishes out his pseudo-intellectual views on developments in the country from a supposedly Islamic perspective probably will understand better the use of this term in the context of the wrongdoing he is alleged to have committed. Or then again, perhaps he does not.

Generally, university students enrolled in any university in the world – whether reputable or not – are taught right from the start that they cannot simply lift or copy the work of others without acknowledging and citing the source. This is cardinal rule number 1 – the need to differentiate between one’s own work and that of others.

The rule is rigorously enforced not only to encourage the student to engage in fresh and original work that stems from his own thought processes but also to protect the intellectual property rights of others whose works, ideas or words have been borrowed.

In the case of the allegation made against Ridhuan, apparently he has copied not only entire paragraphs but also the grammatical errors which appeared in the original blog article.

According to the initial report on the allegation, UTM lecturer Dr Airil Yasreen Mohd Yassin claimed that Ridhuan’s individual assignment for the Grade DS51 Efficiency Level Assessment (PTK4) coursework conducted from May to June 2010, contained paragraphs he had written in his blog in 2009.

Punishment for plagiarism

The penalty for plagiarism is always severe so as to punish the offender and to discourage others from engaging in it. If the work is an essay or a project paper and the plagiarism is proven, this below is an example – according to a handbook for its freshman composition course that all undergraduates are required to take – of the penalty imposed by Harvard University.

Harvard policy requires instructors to report all suspected cases to the dean of the college, and most such cases are ultimately adjudicated by the administrative board. If the majority of board members believe, after considering the evidence and your own account of the events, that you misused sources, they will likely vote that you be required to withdraw from the college for at least two semesters.

Since a vote of requirement to withdraw is effective immediately, you lose all coursework you have done that semester (unless it’s virtually over), along with the money you have paid for it. You must leave Harvard; any return to campus will violate the terms of your withdrawal. You must find a full-time job, stay in it for at least six months, and have your supervisor send a satisfactory report of your performance in order to be readmitted. … Finally, any letter of recommendation written for you on behalf of Harvard College – including letters to graduate schools, law schools, and medical school – will report that you were required to withdraw for academic dishonesty. If you are required to withdraw for a second time, you will not, ordinarily, be readmitted.


No action by the authorities

In response to the renewed disclosure of his alleged wrongdoing, Ridhuan Tee has accused his critics of “character assassination” and challenged them “come and face me upfront”.

This matter is not whether one side or the other has the “telur” (cojones) to confront the other and slug it out. It is one in which stakeholders, who should be concerned about the integrity of our academic system, will need to take a position so that the charge is resolved once and for all, and repetition of such instances is deterred.

There is a second cause of concern. A serious charge of academic dishonesty has been allowed to remain unanswered since 2010 when the authorities were first notified about it. Apparently nothing has been done by the university authorities or the Ministry in charge of higher education. Worse still, the alleged guilty party has been promoted rapidly in the university system.

Now what do these developments say about our university system? That plagiarism is perfectly acceptable among academics, in particular those writing in the national language in the university system? That the National Defence University does not view plagiarism as a serious issue? Or that plagiarism is so pervasive in the university system that it is of little use in trying to fight it? Or that if plagiarism stems from an academic who is waving the Islamic or racist battle flag that favours the present ruling party, it is somehow deemed to be acceptable?

Perhaps the authorities have conducted their investigations and have arrived at findings which have found Ridhuan not guilty of the allegation. Or perhaps Ridhuan has admitted to making an honest mistake in reproducing the excerpts and passing them off as his own words. If so, the authorities need to come out with a statement and full explanation in the interest of transparency and accountability, as well as in ensuring justice to Ridhuan Tee.

And lastly what does it say of Utusan Malaysia, the national newspaper recently lauded by the Prime Minister for being “in the forefront of reporting in this country and shaping the mindsets of the people” as well as “being a symbol of the Malay struggle and a representation of the achievement of the Malay community”?

Any other respectable newspaper would have suspended its staff or columnist who has been accused of plagiarism and would not have permitted the errant person to continue writing until the charge has been proven to be without substance.

In the case of Ridhuan Tee who has set himself up as the champion of true Islamic values and ethical behaviour, one would have expected the paper to be concerned about abiding by journalistic ethical norms and of avoiding being seen as guilty by association. But then perhaps the word “plagiarism” is not found in Utusan’s dictionary or there is no one else that the paper can turn to who can produce the erudite commentaries that flow from Ridhuan’s pen?

Stakeholders taking an interest in this case should not only be political parties such as MIC and the DAP. They should also be members of the committee that screened Ridhuan Tee’s paper and promotion, and the Vice Chancellor all of whom have remained mum in the three years since this issue was first raised as well as the larger community of academics.

The public whose taxation monies are used to finance our universities need to remind the authorities that this is not just any storm in a teacup but one that reflects on how serious we are about upholding international standards.

  1. #1 by bangkoklane on Monday, 25 November 2013 - 12:45 pm

    If this is the calibre of a professor at NDU and other universities in Malaysia, what about the quality of the rest of the academia?

    • #2 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 - 4:39 pm

      In this day and age, your gadget which is very smart can give you all the ideas in the world. How does a very intelligent person know that it is genuinely your work, your ideas and not from somebody else ?

  2. #3 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Monday, 25 November 2013 - 5:12 pm

    If Professor Ridhuan Tee is a known plagiarist, what should he say to his students who submit project papers and theses to him: “…copy while you can…?”

    BTW, where did he get his Ph.D. ? Masters and even Bachelor’s. What field of study?

    Anyone knows?

  3. #4 by Noble House on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 - 2:02 am

    You mean he actually “copied not only entire paragraphs but also the grammatical errors which appeared in the original blog article?” The interesting question here is: “Does HE really understand what that he had copied?”

    Plagiarism or literary theft is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of professional ethics – because of intellectual property involved. Though not a crime per se but in academia and industry it is a serious ethical offense, that is subject to sanctions like expulsion.

  4. #5 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 - 7:38 am

    Without any doubt, our large expenditure in education is just to keep many who cannot compete in the market place a place to get paid. Paid for any incoherent facts that they may spew! We have all come across all kinds of degree holder who make you wonder what has gone wrong? And Riduan Tee is certainly one of them; and he seems wanting to challenge the Mamak for his Melayu-ness! It would be interesting just for the record to know how many of our eggheads have their thesis published and acknowledged internationally. Just scroll the net to read some of the thesis published and accepted, then you can forgive yourselves for just ignoring them!

    • #6 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 - 4:46 pm

      Only 7 more years to go before the whole world will call Malaysia a developed nation.

  5. #7 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 - 7:48 am

    The ultra kiasu copycat. That’s how umno stools get their promotion. They have degrees from dubious universities. Copycat all their way up. Degrees for hanging on walls. They are sure very talented in hoodwinking the people.

    Pordah!! This tee guy thrives on the power of the mob. And he is using that to mischievously achieve his target thru the name of his god.

  6. #8 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 - 11:25 am

    The very definition of Benedict Arnold is extreme cheating. Plagiarism when treason has already being committed is kind of a minor..

  7. #9 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 - 8:21 am

    Plagiarism, SIN – ha,ha, ha – 2 dat Tea fellow, what’s plagiarism?
    No issue 1 lah, just another tool 4 an empty vessel 2 manipulate n cheat 2 climb its ambitious professional n political ladders
    After all, dat creature can forget n give up its genealogical root 忘本 2 so desperately transform itself 2 more Malay than Malays
    It certainly has an opportunistic DNA (perhaps inspired by MMK, d supremo 忘本 n opportunist)

    D funny thing is in 1M’sia n apa apa pun Boleh M’sia, creatures like dat r well rewarded by bosses (also with similar track record or with PhD fr diploma mill aka fake universities) n bcome powerful n prosperous
    What 2 do – Birds of a feather flock together, Gua kasih lu, lu kasih gua lor

  8. #10 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 - 8:31 am

    Dis tea cup or tea pot is d pride n success of UmnoB n Perkosa
    How they wish every non-Malay in UmnoB’s Malaysia is like it, forget n give up its genealogical root 忘本
    It will b d first 2 cast a stone at patriotic Chinese M’sians n yell “Balik China”
    A little reward as professor is OK 1 what 2 spread d mesej dat itu lah d politically correct path 2 promotion

  9. #11 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 - 4:47 pm

    Aware of dis case: Fauzilah Salleh v. Universiti Malaysia Terengganu?

    Hail plagiarism! OK 1 in apa apa pun boleh M’sia

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