Rector Magnificus Huib Pols received the complaint about possible plagiarism in the end of last year. ‘Every case is one too many, but I want to exercise complete transparency.’

How can such a sloppy dissertation have made it to the finish line?

“The PhD candidate has done a plagiarism scan in advance, and that did not show anything wrong, so that is not a conclusive system. In addition, the dissertation was approved by the small and large committee, so the candidate jumped all the hoops. That this could happen nevertheless, is a wakeup call for us as well: every case is one too many and demonstrates the vulnerability of the system.”

The Committee on Scientific Integrity advises to revoke the PhD title of the candidate. The Executive Board comes with a milder judgment: a reprimand and to make the dissertation in order before October 1. Can you explain that?

“As far as we are concerned, there are some mitigating circumstances. The supervision of a PhD candidate creates a measure of dependency which means that we as a university have to take supervisions seriously, and that hasn’t happened. At the same time, we think it is not the case that there’s any covert appropriation of texts by others as were they from herself by the candidate; the working method was insufficient and outstandingly sloppy, however.

“And, don’t forget, we do not ask her to repair the dissertation a little and everything will be okay; the improvements in the dissertation will be examined by a committee chaired by the dean of the RSM and two independent members from outside of the university. Afterwards, the dissertation will go to the Board of Promotions again (one professor of every faculty, chaired by the rector, ed.). But if you ask me ‘can she lose her PhD title nevertheless?’ I will say nothing about it. I have not given the committee the assignment to decide a certain verdict or to employ a certain method, so I do not speculate about the outcome.”

What does it mean that all ten dissertations that were supervised by the same promoter are being investigated for plagiarism?

“In doing so, we want to counter the tinge of doubt that there would be something structurally wrong with the dissertations from this promoter. The dissertations will be examined by independent experts from the field, I cannot yet say who. I myself have no final judgment about the promoter until that investigation will be completed. I will give no replies to questions about who is to blame most in this matter.”

The Committee on Scientific Integrity is very strong in its judgment about the composition of the small committee which has examined the dissertation for the first time. That would be ‘insufficiently independent’, for example because one of the members was a member of a circle of acquaintances of the candidate. Have mistakes been made here?

“This member, a ENT doctor from a respected university, was asked as an expert in the field of leadership in professional organizations – topic of research. Formally, no mistakes have been made, but I admit that the composition of the committee does not stand out as an example. This is one of the topics which we as the Executive Board will discuss.”

What value is attached to the fact that all this concerns an outside promotion candidate, so someone who is not obliged to follow the supervision program like the PhD candidates who are employed by the university?

“The examination of outside candidates does not differ from normal PhD candidates. The supervision doesn’t vary, although the situation in which they find themselves does. Candidates employed by the EUR are in constant touch with colleagues and give courses. For outside candidates, that is most often not the case.”

Last year there were 340 promotions at the EUR, a number which increases every year again. Per dissertation, the EUR receives over 90 thousand euros. Does an incentive like this not contribute to an increasing of the chance that a dissertation like this just slips through?

“Then you will find yourself in the discussion which is currently also being held by Science in Transition. We as EUR are steering towards quality in research and promotions, and in my headship I do not want to maximize quantity but quality.”

How were the responses from the candidate and the promoter when you spoke to them about this?

“I am not going to cite from the conversations with them, but it is a personal drama for the candidate that this happens to her life’s work.” WG/TL