Education

New JNU Appointees Caught in Plagiarism Charges

The real test of how serious the JNU VC is on academic standards is not mandatory attendance but how he deals with plagiarism charges against key faculty.

New Delhi: Even as the vice-chancellor imposes compulsory attendance on Jawaharlal Nehru University students in the name of maintaining academic standards, and BJP ministers insist that students are bringing a bad name to JNU, it is VC M. Jagadesh Kumar’s recent appointments which appear to be casting the university into an even worse light – and this time by objective international criteria. Some of those whom he has been put in charge of maintaining academic standards are apparently plagiarists themselves, and even worse, they see nothing wrong with it.

A group of students, who want to remain anonymous, have found that at least two faculty members whom the VC nominated to various decision-making bodies, and two new recruits in teaching positions, have produced plagiarised research. In addition, two professors considered close aides of the VC, who hold prominent administrative positions, have criminal complaints against them. 

Krishnendra Meena

The first and the most prominent case is that of an assistant professor, Krishnendra Meena, who is currently an assistant professor in political geography at the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies (SIS). The VC has appointed him as a member of several administrative committees. One of them is the Appeals Committee of High Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC) appellate to enquire into the so-called JNU sedition row on February 9, 2016. He is also a member of the committee for recommending online examinations 2019-2020, committee for recommending changing the de-registration clause, committee to oversee smooth functioning of convocation 2018, and a committee to celebrate “5-Decades of JNU’s Accomplishments” and prepare a “Plan of Action”.

Krishnendra Meena. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Krishnendra Meena. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Meena’s MPhil dissertation, “Border Management Problems in South America: A case study of Argentina and Chile” (2001) – was found to contain long passages directly lifted from University of California San Diego professor, David R. Mares’ draft called “Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Latin American Perspectives on the Causes, Prevention and Resolution of Deadly Intra-and Interstate Conflicts, 1982-1996.”

The contents of page number 39 to 49 in chapter three – South American Geopolitics: An Overview – of Meena’s dissertation were found to be almost wholly copied and pasted from Mares’ original work. Turnitin – an online plagiarism-checking platform – showed that 45% of Meena’s dissertation was lifted from various online resources without giving due credit.

For instance, on page 39, Meena writes:

“Latin America is emerging from a thirty years of intense, violent, and deadly conflict. The “national security” governments in South America, with their massive and systematic human rights violations, have all been replaced by elected governments with a commitment to respecting human rights. Indigenous communities are becoming peacefully incorporated as independent political actors throughout the region. Sendero Luminoso, the “Shining Path,” has been defeated in Peru. The wars between El Salvador and Honduras, Argentina and Great Britain, and Peru and Ecuador have been resolved. And the near-wars between Peru and Chile and Argentina and Chile, as well as Guatemala’s threat to the existence of Belize, have been settled, sometimes more amicably than others. In addition, the nuclear arms race between Brazil and Argentina has ended without proliferation, arms industries have been dismantled, military budgets have declined dramatically, and military conscription is slowly being eliminated. Yet, the legacy of this violent period has a strong impact on Latin American citizens, policymakers, and military officers: few believe that this past has been clearly exiled to the dustbin of history, never to threaten the peace and prosperity of the region again. For example, guerrilla movements persist in Colombia and Peru, a border war erupted between Ecuador and Peru in 1995 and has only recently been resolved, and vigilante groups threaten to undermine many of the compromises that ended· the Central American civil wars. Hence, a lively and fundamentally important discussion flourishes in the region concerning the causes, prevention, and resolution of deadly conflict.”

Mares’s paper starts with exactly these two paras:

“Latin America is emerging from a 30 year period of intense, violent and deadly conflict. The Central American civil wars are over, in South America the national security governments with their massive and systematic human rights violations have all been replaced by elected governments with a commitment to respecting human rights, indigenous communities are becoming peacefully incorporated as independent political actors throughout the region, Sendero Luminoso has been defeated in Peru; and the wars between El Salvador-Honduras, Argentina-Great Britain and the near wars between Peru-Chile and Argentina-Chile, as well as Guatemala s threat to the existence of Belize, have all been settled, some more amicably than others. In addition, the nuclear arms race between Brazil and Argentina has ended without proliferation, arms industries have been dismantled, military budgets have declined dramatically and military conscription is slowly being eliminated.

Yet the legacy of this violent period has a strong impact on Latin American citizens, policymakers and military officers: few believe that this past has been clearly exiled to the dustbin of history, never to threaten the peace and prosperity of the region again. For example, guerrilla movements persist in Colombia and Peru, a border war erupted between Ecuador and Peru in 1995, and vigilante groups threaten to undermine many of the compromises which ended the Central American civil wars. Hence a lively and fundamentally important discussion flourishes in the region concerning the causes, prevention and resolution of deadly conflict.”

The tabulations and sub-heads incorporated by Mares in his paper were lifted verbatim too by Meena.

When the students informed Mares’ about the matter on email, he wrote back saying, “Thank you for this alert. I will speak with my authorities here to ascertain the path I should pursue.”

When contacted, Meena told The Wire, “It (the dissertation) is not plagiarised. It (allegation) is false. Let me see which portions they (students) claim are plagiarised. I wrote my M.Phil in 2001. Why has that become a topic of discussion now? I finished my Ph.D in 2012. Anyone can verify its contents. One must realise people grow in academics and that should be taken into account.”

Anuja

Anuja. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Anuja. Credit: jnu.ac.in

An assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, School of Social Sciences (SSS), Anuja was hired in 2017. However, defying convention, the VC appointed her as one of the proctors of the university, charged with maintaining order, and a member of the committee for recommending online examinations 2019-2020.

Anuja’s PhD – “Role of Tourism in Economic and Social Development of Thailand” (2010) – was also found to have a similarity index as high as 73% in the online tool Turnitin.

Anuja writes on page 24-25 of her thesis:

“Becherel (2001) distinguishes four different stages in tourism policy formulation. In the first stage, tourism policy is “promotion” oriented, the pattem being that tourism authorities publicize attractions. Once tourism starts to become established as a significant economic sector, national, regional and local authorities endeavor to maximize the productive potential of a sector by investing in infrastructure and supplying marketing services that the private sector cannot afford or is not yet willing to provide. Thirdly, tourism policy becomes “promotion and product” oriented. As competition increases and tourism activity intensifies, tourism policy focuses on improving competitiveness by creating a statutory framework to monitor, control and enhance quality and efficiency in the industry and to protect resources. But in today’s globalized marketplace, strategy and strategic planning are becoming key elements of tourism policy. In this fourth stage destinations must think strategically; policy must be designed to position the destination to attract identified markets, create value through innovation and encourage partnerships between stakeholders and coordinate actions and initiatives. (Chaisawat, M., 2006: 2)

The tourism industry is a global business. Chris Cooper & Eduarda Fayos (WTO, 2001) indicated that tourism is in a situation that Kuhn (1962) would clearly define as a paradigm shift, and which is not far from the globalization process of economy and society in general. The traditional tourism resources, the comparative advantages (climate, landscape, culture, etc.) are becoming less and less important compared to other factors in tourism competitiveness. Information (or rather the strategic management of information), intelligence (innovative capacity in teams within an organisation) and knowledge (know-how, or a combination of technological skills and technology, and organisational structure – humanology) now constitute new resources and are key factors in the competitiveness of tourism organisations (enterprises, institutions and destinations). Globalization is changing the competitive landscape of tourism, driving enterprises, communities, nations and governments to rethink their strategies and structures to allow them to operate successfully in a boundaryless world. Globalization, and the increased competition in tourism markets after the 1980s, has required a continuous improvement in the price/product-characteristics ratio; that is to say, a constant striving towards quality and efficiency. From the above development of tourism policy and planning, strategic management was already applied to tourism policy and planning. The basic definition of strategic management given by Wheelen & Hunger (2002) is that set of managerial decisions and actions that determines a long-run performance of a corporation. It includes environmental scanning (both external and internal), strategy formulation (strategic or long-range planning), strategy implementation, and evaluation and control. The strategic management emphasizes the monitoring and evaluating of external opportunities and threats in the light of a corporation’s strengths and weaknesses. Strategic management typically is more oriented to rapidly changing future situations and how to cope with changes organisationally. It is more action-orientated and concerned with handling unexpected events. Therefore this concept is the best fit to tourism policy and planning. (Chaisawat, M., 2006: 3)”

While she has cited the source, “Policy and Planning of Tourism Product Development in Thailand: A Proposed Model” by Manat Chaisawat, Anuja seems unable to differentiate between citation and plagiarism. Anuja has copied and pasted the entire text.

Here is what Chaisawat writes:

“Becherel (2001) distinguishes four different stages in tourism policy formulation. In the first stage, tourism policy is “promotion” oriented, the pattern being that tourism authorities publicize attractions. Once tourism starts to become established as a significant economic sector, national, regional and local authorities endeavor to maximize the productive potential of a sector by investing in infrastructure and supplying marketing services that the private sector cannot afford or is not yet willing to provide. Thirdly, tourism policy becomes “promotion and product” oriented. As competition increases and tourism activity intensifies, tourism policy focuses on improving competitiveness by creating a statutory framework to monitor, control and enhance quality and efficiency in the industry and to protect resources.

But in today’s globalized marketplace, strategy and strategic planning are becoming key elements of tourism policy. In this fourth stage destinations must think strategically; policy must be designed to position the destination to attract identified markets, create value through innovation, encourage partnerships between stakeholders and coordinate actions and initiatives.

The tourism industry is a global business. Chris Cooper & Eduarda Fayos (WTO, 2001) indicated that tourism is in a situation that Kuhn (1962) would clearly define as a paradigm shift, and which is not far from the globalization process of economy and society in general. The traditional tourism resources, the comparative advantages (climate, landscape, culture, etc.) are becoming less and less important compared to other factors in tourism competitiveness. Information (or rather the strategic management of information), intelligence (innovative capacity in teams within an organization) and knowledge (know-how, or a combination of technological skills and technology, and organizational structure – humanology) now constitute new resources and are key factors in the competitiveness of tourism organizations (enterprises, institutions and destinations). Globalization is changing the competitive landscape of tourism, driving enterprises, communities, nations and governments to rethink their strategies and structures to allow them to operate successfully in a boundaryless world. Globalization, and the increased competition in tourism markets after the 1980s, has required a continuous improvement in the price/product–characteristics ratio; that is to say, a constant striving towards quality and efficiency.

From the above development of tourism policy and planning, strategic management was already applied to tourism policy and planning. The basic definition of strategic management given by Wheelen & Hunger (2002) is that set of managerial decisions and actions that determines a long-run performance of a corporation. It includes environmental scanning (both external and internal), strategy formulation (strategic or long-range planning), strategy implementation, and evaluation and control. The strategic management emphasizes the monitoring and evaluating of external opportunities and threats in the light of a corporation’s strengths and weaknesses. Strategic management typically is more oriented to rapidly changing future situations and how to cope with changes organizationally. It is more action-orientated and concerned with handling unexpected events. Therefore this concept is the best fit to tourism policy and planning.”

When contacted by telephone, Anuja, at first, acknowledged that she was speaking but upon hearing the allegations, she said, “You are speaking to the wrong person. I do not know when I did my M.Phil and Ph.D.”

Jaikhlong Basumatary

Basumatary was appointed in 2017 as an assistant professor in the Indo-Pacific Centre, School of International Studies (SIS). Student groups and some faculty members alleged that better-qualified candidates were overlooked in the interviews to hire him. While he is serving his probation period, he was recently appointed as the nodal officer for north-eastern students by the VC, whose order said that the position was created “in order to strengthen Union Government’s commitment and resolve to develop and deepen cooperation with our North Eastern regions.” The VC further said that “this nodal officer will liaise between the students’ community, the dean of students and the rector’s office in JNU.

Jaikhlong Basumatary. Credit: claws.in

Jaikhlong Basumatary. Credit: claws.in

Basumatary’s M.Phil too, “Suicide Terrorism in West Asia: A study of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and post-Saddam Iraq” (2010), was found to be 51% plagiarised, mostly from multiple research papers available freely on the internet. Turnitin shows that the maximum portion of his work was copied from one Amir Kulick’s “Israeli Confrontation with Suicide Terrorism”. While he has footnoted the source, Basumatary did not put Kulick’s sentences in quotes, again seemingly unable to differentiate between citation and plagiarism.

He used the same mechanism when he cited “The Indefinable Concept of Terrorism” (2006) by George P. Fletcher.

For example, Fletcher writes in his paper:

“On the assumption that everyone knows what terrorism is, the first step is to identify certain organizations as terrorist by their nature e.g. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and then to impose both criminal and non-criminal measures against the acts of providing funds to these organizations.

If they are crimes, the obligation of the governments is to arrest the suspects and bring them to trial. They cannot use deadly force unless specific police officers are under a personal threat to their lives.

In the history of warfare nations are used to targeting other nations. since the Geneva Conventions, however, the international community is committed to distinguishing between civilian and military targets. The problem in cases of terrorism, obviously, is that one has neither a foreign army nor a defined nation to take as the object of using force.  In the absence of both, those who must defend themselves subscribe to the belief that there is something out there, some kind of cross between a people and an army, something they call ‘terrorists’. The label ‘terrorism’ thus has an almost irresistible charm for governments engaged in de facto wars with irregular militants who do not qualify as military forces under the law of war.”

Basumatary on pages six and seven of his thesis writes the following:

“On the assumption that everyone knows what terrorism is, the first step is to identify certain organizations as terrorist by their nature – Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah – and then to impose both criminal and· non-criminal measures against the acts of providing funds to these organizations.

Fletcher is therefore of the argument that if they are crimes, the obligation of the governments is to arrest the suspects and bring them to trial. They cannot use deadly force unless specific police officers are under a threat to their lives.

In the history of warfare, nations are used to targeting other nations. Since the Geneva Conventions, however, the international community is committed to distinguishing between civilians and military targets. The problem in cases of terrorism is that one has neither foreign army nor a defined nation to take as the object of using force. In the absence of both, those who must define themselves subscribe to the belief that there is something out there – some kind of cross between people and an army, something they call ”terrorist”. The label “terrorism” thus has an almost irresistible charm for governments engaged in de facto wars with irregular military forces under the law of war.”

Speaking to The Wire, Basumatary said, “I submitted my M.Phil in 2010. I am pretty shocked to hear the allegation. I can confirm that I have cited all the sources which I used in my dissertation.”

Manoj Kumar Jena

Manoj Kumar Jena. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Manoj Kumar Jena. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Jena was appointed as an assistant professor in the Centre for the Study of Social Systems (CSSS) of the School of Social Sciences in 2017. His PhD, “Information Society and Changing Family Relationships: A Case Study of Bangalore,” which he submitted in 2009, was found to have been heavily plagiarised from multiple sources, including from newspapers. His appointment was also debated as allegedly several better candidates were overlooked to hire him.

Here are a few examples of Jena’s plagiarism.

Page numbers 140-145 of Jena’s Ph.D was found to be copied from G. Ananthakrishan’s review of James Heitzman’s book “Network city – Planning the Information Society in Bangalore”, published in The Hindu on 6 December 2008.

Ananthakrishnan writes:

“It is now the era of the knowledge society, and the Manchester of the industrial era has come to be replaced by the Silicon Valley. The 1500 sq. km. area of enterprise in California that came to be known as the Silicon Valley has become the gold standard for several international cities. Bangalore acquired the title well ahead of the others and as the author, James Heitzman, notes in his book, it is recognised as India’s Silicon Valley even by those who live in the “original” in the U.S.

Heitzman’s study of Bangalore and his personal involvement with the city’s planning activity in recent years have produced a painstakingly researched account of its transition from a colonial town to manufacturing hub to software capital.

In his exhaustive account of urbanisation, the Associate Professor of History at the Georgia State University in Atlanta goes beyond the “information society” milieu and looks at complex processes that impact the way agglomerations, planned or otherwise, are created. To construct his thesis that a vertical model to explain the city’s growth denominated by information infrastructure is open to challenge.”

Jena copied word-to-word from this article on pages 141-142 of his thesis:

“James Heitzman; in his book network city – planning the information society in Bangalore: argues that in the industrial age, towns got their sobriquets based on their resemblance to cities in England and the manufacturing activity that they were engaged in. It is now the era of the knowledge society, and the Manchester of the industrial era has come to be replaced by the Silicon Valley. The 1500 sq. km. area of enterprise in California that came to be known as the Silicon Valley has become the gold standard for several international cities. Bangalore acquired the title well ahead of the others and as the author, James Heitzman, notes in his book, it is recognised as India’s Silicon Valley even by those who live in the “original” in the U.S.

Heitzman’s study of Bangalore and his personal involvement with the city’s planning activity in recent years have produced a painstakingly researched account of its transition from a colonial town to manufacturing hub to software capital.”

His thesis was found to be 50% plagiarised. Another section was lifted from an article titled “Issues and concerns of health among call center employees”, co-authored by V.P. Sudhashree, K. Rohith and K. Shrinivas, in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. In the original article, the authors write:

“India is all set to register the highest growth rate in call center services industry in Asia Pacific Region. A recent survey on Information technology enabled services has revealed that currently more than 150 call centers are operating in the country, inclusive international and domestic. It is widely believed that this industry is expected to compensate for the loss of revenue
for the software industry. India’s call center industry accounts for a quarter of the software and service exports from the country, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies.

Presently more than 10 000 seats in the country handle an average of 45– 80 calls per seat per day. The cost of investment per seat varies from Rs. 5 to Rs.8 lakhs to set up a state of the art call center with 100–300 seats. Revenues from each seat ranges from Rs. 8 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh per month. The NASSCOM-Mckinsey report predicted that IT enabled services would account for a mammoth $17 billion business per year. The report also predicts that in India it might generate 1.1 million jobs and Rs. 810 billion in revenues by the year 2008.”

Look what Jena writes on page numbers 256-257 of his thesis.

“Other issues were related to loss of identity, isolation, and drug abuse and work pressure due to long hours of work, permanent night shifts, and high work targets. 30-40% of the employees working in the call center had complained of eye problems. India is all set to register the highest growth rate in call center services industry in Asia Pacific Region. A recent survey on Information technology enabled services has revealed that currently more than 150 call centers are operating in the country, inclusive of international and domestic. It is widely believed that this industry is expected to compensate for the loss of revenue for the software industry.

India’s call center industry accounts for a quarter of the software and service exports from the country, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies. Presently more than 10 000 seats in the country handle an average of 4580 calls per seat per day. The cost of investment per seat varies from Rs. 5 to Rs. 8 lakhs to set up a state of the art call center with 100-300 seats. Revenues from each seat ranges from Rs. 8 lakh toRs. 10 lakh per month. The NASSCOM-Mckinsey report predicted that IT enabled services would account for a mammoth $17 billion business per year. The report also predicts that in India it might generate 1.1 million jobs and Rs. 810 billion in revenues by the year 2008.”

Significant portions of his content have also been lifted from online non-academic sources like this anonymous article, Indian Family Structure – Indian families.

Jena could not be reached on the phone. The Wire has sent an email seeking his response to the allegations but it has remained unanswered.

Buddha Singh

One of the most trusted aides of the current VC, Buddha Singh, is an assistant professor in the School of Computer and Systems Sciences. He was recently appointed as the associate dean of students and is also the warden of Periyar hostel. Known to be an open supporter of the RSS’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), he was in the centre of a storm when a student pressed charges of molestation and physical violence against him in October last year.

Buddha Singh. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Buddha Singh. Credit: jnu.ac.in

The complainant who filed an FIR alleged that Singh “molested” and “abused her publicly” and made sexist remarks against her. She also said that at the behest of Singh, the university set up an inquiry against her for participating in a protest against indiscriminate “raids” in women’s hostels presided over by Singh.

When The Wire sought Singh’s response, he said, “It is a cooked story. Portals like The Wire have a great role in portraying JNU in negative light. It spoils the university’s academic environment. Because of such negative stories, the students and teachers of JNU are not getting their due respect. Why don’t you write about positive developments in JNU? Our students are getting scholarships. Recently our blind students won many medals. JNU has also adopted government’s e-marketing portal. This has really made purchasing of different items in JNU easier for the administration. Culture festivals are going on in every hostel. We have already implemented digital payment systems.”

“There is no debate in JNU. Only some teachers are not letting candidates to appear for job interviews. They are spoiling their careers. Every university has a compulsory attendance system. What is the problem if JNU implements it? Why don’t you report on Left academics and students who have been charged with sexual assault cases? Why is JNUTA or JNUSU silent about this case,” he added.

Atul Johri

The School of Life Sciences professor was in the news when eight students filed FIRs against him on charges of sexual harassment. While Johri denied the charge, he said that those who complained were retaliating for being punished for bunking classes. However, the complainants said that some of them chose not to attend his classes as they felt unsafe in laboratories administered by Johri. He was arrested but released on bail within hours. “The professor often makes sexually-coloured remarks, open demands for sex and comments on the figure of almost every girl. If a girl objects, he holds a grudge against her,” the women students had said in a statement.

“There is a financial nexus between the professor and the administration. No instrument has been purchased for years, but still crores of rupees have been spent,” it said.

Atul Johri. Credit: jnu.ac.in

Atul Johri. Credit: jnu.ac.in

A majority of the faculty, the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), and a majority of students felt that since he has still not been suspended (the university rules gives the VC the power to suspend the teacher in such cases) the university administration was trying to shield him as he has been a consistent supporter of the VC.

Johri was holding multiple administrative posts – director of the university’s Internal Quality Assurance Cell, director of the Human Resource Development Cell, the position of a warden, and was on various other committees – before he resigned from many of these after charges of sexual harassment were pressed against him.

As the university stood divided over the VC’s mandatory attendance order recently, a group of teachers, under the leadership of Johri, circulated a letter condemning the protests against the order. They said that the protests were led by “unruly students.” A letter which Johri circulated in favour of mandatory attendance, had signatures of some renowned intellectuals. However, at least four of the signatories – agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, ‘Metro Man’ E. Sreedharan, Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) director-general K.G. Suresh and former Indian Institute of Science director Goverdhan Mehta – came on the record to say that they had not endorsed any such statement.

Apart from Johri, Anuja, Buddha Singh, Meena, Jena and many others who have stood by the VC, endorsed the statement.

The larger debate

The VC’s choice of administrative associates is an integral part of the dispute between the administration and JNU’s academic community. Faculty members allege that Kumar has chosen his associates either on the basis of their Hindu right affiliations or on the basis of uncritical compliance with his high-handed orders. The JNUTA has also alleged that in recent rounds of hires, the VC overlooked deserving candidates with better academic credentials to select only those who had some association with the ABVP.

The VC has made multiple controversial decisions in his tenure, the latest being removing the chairpersons/deans of schools without notice. Many of their replacements did not have the expertise to administer the schools/centres. For example, an assistant professor on probation in the Persian department, Mazhar Asif, was made the acting dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics. He replaced Kavita Singh, who had been protesting against the VC’s mandatory attendance order.

Similarly, Dhananjay Singh, a former member of the ABVP in JNU, replaced Udaya Kumar as chairperson for the Centre for English Studies. Kumar had earlier recorded his dissent against Dhananjay’s elevation from assistant professor straight to professor, pointing out several procedural violations during Dhananjay’s appointment.

Earlier in 2016, in an academic council meeting, the VC, M. Jagadesh Kumar, got the council members to pass a resolution that granted him powers to intervene in the list of experts for selection committees. Since then, going against established convention, he has used his discretionary powers to have people of his choice, sometimes without the required expertise, in the selection panel to select new recruits in teaching positions.

While it is true that many of the plagiarised works discussed above were submitted as theses in JNU before he took over and before software made plagiarism checks possible, it is in how the Vice Chancellor will deal with the current revelations that the test really lies. Academic standards would require the VC to investigate the allegations made by students and use anti-plagiarism laws and the recently-drafted UGC guidelines on plagiarism. JNU scholars also argue that the VC should initiate in-house proceedings against those who are facing criminal charges.

Calls and an email to the VC’s office remained unanswered at the time of writing. The story will be updated if and when his responses come in.