(Update: on March 29, the president was stripped of his doctoral title by the academic senate of Semmelweis University – see list of developments since publication of this post below the photo).
On March 27, an expert panel released the report of its investigation of the plagiarism charges launched against Hungarian president Pál Schmitt. The committee had no difficulties ascertaining that the dissertation extensively copied three different sources. Nevertheless, they concluded that the president’s dissertation meets formal requirements. Whether he must be stripped of his academic title is now up to the Hungarian Ministry of National Resources. The mind-boggling decision is further evidence that in Hungary facts are relative to one’s party affiliation: according to a survey, 64% of the opposition’s voters are convinced that Schmitt is guilty of academic dishonesty, but only 16% of the government’s followers would agree with that statement.
In early January, I wrote a lengthy post about the evidence available to support allegations that Hungary’s president Pál Schmitt committed plagiarism in his doctoral thesis. Back then, the tally of copied vs. original pages stood at 180 to 35: as I describe in much greater detail in the January post, 180 pages of the Hungarian president’s doctoral thesis were originally written by Nikolai Georgiev’s under the title Analyse du programme olympique (des Jeux de l’Olympiade).
It was not long before it was discovered that some of the remaining 35 pages were plagiarized as well. Shortly after the discovery that the majority of Schmitt’s dissertation was nothing but an awkwardly disguised Hungarian translation of the Bulgarian sport scholar’s work, 17 more pages of the thesis turned out to have been written by a German scholar, Klaus Heinemann.
Mr. Schmitt lifted Heinemann’s essay, The Economics of Sport: The Institution of Modern Sport as an Area of Economic Competition in the same fashion already seen with Georgiev’s work. The president presented a Hungarian translation of the work in his dissertation. He included the source in his bibliography, though not without some obstacles to locating the original version: Schmitt cited a book, edited by Heineman and entitled Sport… le troisième millénaire, which contained a selection of essays on the dissertation topic (including the essay Schmitt expropriated for his dissertation and quoted word for word). Of course the citation should have listed the essay’s title (it turns out that Mr. Schmitt was not entirely unaware of this: he cites another essay from the essay collection by title). And to further conceal the source, Mr. Schmitt listed the book’s title in Hungarian.
The plagiarism was discovered when journalists of the internet portal index.hu noted sources quoted in the remaining supposedly “original” pages of the dissertation, sources which did not appear either in Schmitt’s bibliography or in his footnotes (as my first post on the topic noted, Mr. Schmitt’s doctoral thesis does not contain any footnotes). This led directly to Heinemann’s essay, who of course did a much more proper job at listing these same sources. The tally of copied vs. original pages at this point stood at 197 to 17.
But as it happens to turn out, not even the graphics and the diagrams were prepared by the person who took credit for the dissertation, the person who currently holds the highest public office in Hungary: these were taken from no other than the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Charter.
The tally of copied vs. original pages comes to 207 to 7, therefore, on the final accounting.
Not much of the above is in question in the report prepared by the committee investigating the accusations of plagiarism, which confirms that an overwhelming portion of the thesis is copied material. However, according to the report released today, it was the responsibility of the supervising professors and the institution issuing the degree to discover the academic dishonesty. Having failed to do so, the doctoral student was able to believe that his thesis met the university’s formal requirements.
This latter finding of the committee will certainly prove to be useful to justify Mr. Schmitt’s many claims insisting that he did not commit plagiarism. So will the overall conclusion of the report, a logical absurdity of the highest order: the committee found both that Schmitt’s thesis was plagiarized (“it was based on translations of extensive length”), and yet “adequate in its formal aspects.”
The committee’s 3-page-long summary of the report was released one day ahead of its expected release. Tomorrow, a press conference was to be held by the members of the panel, who have opted for posting a summary of their opinion on the university’s webpage today instead of appearing in front of the reporters tomorrow. One member of the panel prepared a minority opinion, but what this opinion contains is a tightly kept secret at this point.
This is not to say, necessarily, that Mr. Schmitt will be able to keep his academic title in the end – or his job, for that matter.
As far as the former is concerned, the university that issued his title seems reluctant to make a decision. To be sure, their mandate was to investigate the charges of plagiarism only, though whether anyone has been appointed to draw these final conclusions is unclear. The expert panel sent its full – 1157-page-long (!) – report to the Hungarian Ministry of National Resources, which, just like the university where the report was prepared, also has the authority to strip persons found guilty of plagiarism of their academic title – but which has not once done so.
What is more, if we go solely by the communications of politicians affiliated with the government, there is not much to lead to further consequences at all. Sources close to the government interpret the report as saying that Mr. Schmitt is clear of the plagiarism charges. Accordingly Fidesz, Hungary’s governing party, considers the case closed (this is the opinion of the party, not of their members of parliament – the latter received a text message this morning forbidding them to comment the case to the press).
The Christian Democrats, the smaller ally within the governing party went beyond the enthusiasm of Fidesz: they issued a statement calling the committee’s report “a reassuring closure to suggestions according to which the originality of the head of state is questionable.”
This, of course, does not mean that prime minister Viktor Orbán will not eventually force Schmitt into resignation. If he does decide to do so, however, it certainly will not be at the urging of his party or of the party’s voters.
Two unrelated sources confirmed, by the way, that Tivadar Tulassay, the rector of the university that commissioned the report, consulted in person with Orbán on the committee’s work prior to the release of their report. As it would have been impossible for the committee not to affirm the fact of copying, much of the committee’s deliberations concerned the problem of finding a “creative solution” to avoid serving as the direct cause of the political downfall of the president, the sources told internet portal Origo.
In the end, however, Mr. Schmitt stands to lose very little from the affair beyond what he had already lost in the wake of the scandal. Regardless of the outcome, he is going to draw a generous salary from the Hungarian state for the rest of his life. A law which came into effect alongside Hungary’s new constitution changed the rules of compensating the president of the republic after his service. Previously, he was required to serve at least 2 years in the position before he is assured continuing compensation appropriate to his office (including a residence, car, and a two-person secretariat). In the version amended by the Hungarian government, the president may resign at any time without losing his eligibility for the above benefits.
The cost of maintaining Schmitt’s innocence is likely to be paid by many others, by those who are well aware of the seriousness of plagiarizing 207 pages of one’s 215-page-long doctoral thesis: by Hungarian academics and university students, who have to continue their work in a system incapable of excluding from among its midst even the most blatant acts of academic dishonesty.
(for updates, scroll down below pictures)
03/27/2012 – Approximately 1000 protested against the decision on Kossuth Square. The “flashmob” was organized by the green party LMP.
03/28/2012 – The Ministry of National Resources sent the report back to the university unopened. It is the position of the Ministry that only the university that had issued the degree is in a position to strip Mr. Schmitt of his degree.
A group of students belonging to HAHA occupied the offices of Semmelweis University. HAHA stands for Hallgatói Hálózat or Student Network, as of late in the afternoon, the occupation is well tolerated by building security. The students demand that the university initiate the procedures necessary for stripping Schmitt of his degree – specifically, a vote by the university senate.
There is an incredibly thorough treatment of the entire affair on Wikipedia (thank you, Mark, for the link)
The “doctoral council” of Semmelweis University is scheduled to meet tomorrow (on Thursday); according to the rector of the university, Tivadar Tulassay, they are going to discuss the Schmitt case.
03/29/2012 – The minority opinion, written by attorney Ákos Fluck, was released to the press. Fluck concluded that the dissertation does not meet the formal requirements applicable to the degree.
The scandal appears to be more divisive of the supporters of the governing party (the opposition is already united in calling for Schmitt’s resignation). Even Magyar Nemzet, the most loyal of all pro-government newspapers, has issued an editorial asking Mr. Schmitt to resign.
There will be a demonstration organized by Students’ Network demonstration at 11 AM today, across the Rector’s Office of Semmelweis University on Köztelek Square, during the meeting of the doctoral council. The protesters will also stage a contents of who can use mobile internet to steal the longest doctoral thesis from foreign sources the quickest.
In the morning, a somewhat unexpected turn of events, The Graduate Council of Semmelweis University voted to initiate a vote in the academic senate on whether Mr. Schmitt should be stripped of his doctorate.
The source of the remaining 7 pages of the dissertation are being identified. They were in part lifted from another essay in the Heinemann collection called Progress made, Pitfalls and Conditions for further Advancement of Women in the Olympic Movement by Anita L. Defrantz, who used to be an olympic rower and who once ran against Mr. Schmitt in the International Olympic Commission’s presidential election. Several other sources have been traced in this chapter, the one considered to be most original by the dissertation committee, on the participation of women in sports. The close scrutiny on the text has also yielded in the discovery of factual mistakes in the chapter.
A speaker of the demonstration held on Thursday against Schmitt’s refusal to resign was fired from his job. He used to be a social worker at the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service. He was told by his employer that the “Catholic values” of the organization do not accord with direct political participation.
Breaking at 7 p.m. Hungarian time: Mr. Schmitt is no longer a doctor (though he’s still president). The university senate of Semmelweis University decided to strip him from his degree this afternoon. The vote was 33-4 in favor, the reason: lack of scientific work behind the doctoral thesis.