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Dalit Student Suspended for Plagiarism by IIM Udaipur Says Order Violates Central Law

Image for representation. (Photo: Reuters)

Image for representation. (Photo: Reuters)

The institute has responded, saying it follows the highest standards and the student can come back when the yearlong suspension period is over.

New Delhi: A PhD student has been suspended on charges of plagiarism by the Indian Institute of Management Udaipur from the marketing discipline. The student, who is a Dalit and does not wish to be named, wrote an explanation to the director of the institute, arguing that “copying” with mention of references is allowed.

He also told News18.com that it was a class assignment, which does not come under the purview of plagiarism as per the ministry of human resource development.

More than 40 alumni from the IIMs' Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) cell and other groups have come out in his support, with the plan to challenge the suspension in court.

Anil Wagde, member of the Global IIM Alumni Network, who said he was speaking on behalf of the SC/ST alumni of the IITs, IIMs and other premier institutes, highlighted “the harassment being meted out to first generation of PhD students in IIMs”. He said the plan was to fight against “plagiarism, as a new weapon for the authorities to harass students”.

In a letter to the director, Wagde argued that a one-year suspension for not using quotations and references in a one-page assignment intended for class participation “is not only unfair and unjust but outrageous” and said that as per the government regulations, the decision “by your institution is in violation of MHRD regulations. (Refer to UGC [Promotion of academic integrity and prevention of plagiarism in higher educational institutions regulations, 2018 issued on 23rd July, 2018] which clearly exempts class assignments)”.

“The assignment was not intended for any publication. It was neither copied from other class participants. The assignment was compiled from the same papers that the student was supposed to discuss in class,” he said.

What the note says

The suspension note (copy with News18.com) from the director issued on November 25, 2019 said that the PhD Committee “has deliberated on the academic indiscipline case of plagiarism in your Contemporary Marketing Research (CMR) reflection note submission. The Committee reviewed your reflection note multiple times and it has opined that the similarity match could not have happened by accident. The note for first class was copied at several places directly from the abstracts of the paper”.

The student responded with an explanation which the PhD Committee reviewed. “The Committee opined that reasons mentioned by you do not justify copying the text from abstracts of paper verbatism. The reasons may lead to lapse or delay in submission, or poor quality of submission, but they do not justify copying abstracts verbatim,” was communicated to him.

The administration pointed out in the order that this should never have occurred after the initial orientation on plagiarism provided to the new PhD students of the institute during the programme induction.

“The PhD Committee has concluded that this is a case of plagiarism and is unacceptable in the PhD program at the institute and in academic research in general. The Institute reserves the right to impose fines for acts of indiscipline. Penalty for breach of academic discipline includes expulsion from the institute,” said the note.

The committee, based on its conclusion that the student has engaged in serious academic indiscipline by committing plagiarism, suspended him from the PhD programme for a period of one year “with immediate effect”.

The explanation

The accusing faculty raised the same issue of plagiarism in an earlier session. To this the student explained that he was confused with pre-class summaries as mentioned in the course outline and didn’t have an idea of how a typical reflection note would be. A reflection note is an analysis giving views on what one felt after reading a paper.

He fought the plagiarism charges, saying, “Accusing faculty has missed the part of explanation where I mention my idea of reflection note before session 3, which is 'compiling the important points of the paper in a precise and compact manner'. Even the course outline of Contemporary Marketing Research required me to send pre class summaries. From this the idea of copying text from abstract stems.”

He added, “As far as I remember, during the PhD orientation on the first day, copying with mention of references is allowed. The presentation slides that were shown on the first day were never shared with students even till date. So, PhD students don't have clear reference material about plagiarism even though all the students know that they shouldn't plagiarise in the final thesis.”

The student has argued that the CMR was an introductory course as evident from the course outline and if the faculty expected the student to analyse, evaluate and criticise the subject then he should have given clear instructions about the class preparations like the other faculties.

“If the faculty had explained how a reflection note should be written, this confusion could have been avoided. Also, if the faculty had explicitly mentioned about plagiarism in the instructions, a student would have made a priority to mention the references,” he wrote.

“A PhD student's life is hectic, and he/she is prone to having these confusions owing to many factors. The faculty should have stepped up and given clarity,” he said.

Quota talk

Wagde alleged that harassment was being meted out to the first generation of PhD students in IIMs. "Till recently they wouldn't admit students for PhD. Having been forced to admit students, under a very flimsy ground, plagiarism for class assignment, they have suspended one in IIM Udaipur. Looks like plagiarism is a new weapon for the authorities to harass students."

He added, "Now there is all the more reason that there should be reservation in the IIM faculty, which will lead to acceptance of reserved students on the campuses. Even before the ink could dry, all the 20 IIMs appealed to the government to revoke the order saying their recruitment process is fair. And what do they have to show for the fairness? Less than 10 reserved faculty members in top 10 IIMs with faculty size of over 600."

When contacted by News18.com, IIM Udaipur director Janat Shah reacted to the row. “It was a fairly formal process. We set standards higher than the UGC guidelines, which we follow. It is a public document. We are premier institutions and our standards are higher. Just one sentence on academic discipline says that all sources of information used for the completion of their assignments and projects should be explicitly acknowledged. Penalty for breach of academic discipline would mean expulsion from the institute.”

He added, “He is saying he didn’t give references, as an institute we treat every submission as similar. No academic institution will allow plagiarism in submission. Any submission is checked in a software to check plagiarism. In this submission there were 97% similarities. It is just copying, lifting the three paragraphs from those papers. It is not simply not quoting references. In maintaining academic standards background don’t count. But after one-year suspension, he will be treated as other students in the institute."