Copycat academic 'quits' Oz post

Dismissed last December from Wits University for plagiarism, sociologist Abebe Zegeye has resigned from the senior academic post in Australia he assumed a month later.

Five days after the Mail & Guardian revealed on April 15 the reasons for his exit from Wits, The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, reported that Zegeye had resigned as director of the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia.

The “revelation of [Zegeye’s] role in a plagiarism scandal in South Africa” would likely raise “questions” about the University of South Australia’s “selection process”, The Age reported on Wednesday last week.

Zegeye was dismissed from Wits in December last year after a lengthy process of investigation and ­hearings that culminated in an arbitration which found him guilty of plagiarism.

The academic’s offences comprised 140 instances of plagiarism in nine publications spanning the eight years preceding his appointment as director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser) in July 2009, according to the confidential 100-page arbitration the M&G has obtained.

Among the 31 scholars the arbitration said Zegeye had “too-perfectly paraphrased” were stellar names such as novelist and Princeton University professor of philosophy Kwame Anthony Appiah, British cultural studies pioneer Stuart Hall and sociologist Manuel Castells, the author of the landmark Information Age trilogy.

Wits had made no announcement of the reasons for Zegeye’s departure, the M&G reported. In the case of the University of South Australia “the first we knew of the matter was through the article published in the M&G”, said Nigel Relph, responding to questions sent to vice-chancellor Peter Høj.

“The confidential Wits University report ... was not disclosed to us in the course of the thorough selection process we always undertake for senior academic appointments,” Relph said.

“We obtained a number of references for professor Zegeye, including from a senior level at Wits University and also used ...
a respected international search firm during the selection,” he said.

Relph declined to answer more specific questions about interactions between Zegeye and the University of South Australia in the wake of the newspaper’s report, saying only that Zegeye resigned “on becoming aware of the April 15 [M&G] article”.

Zegeye refused to answer any questions this week, except to emphasise in angry emails denouncing the M&G‘s coverage that he “resigned of his own accord” and was “not dismissed by the University of South Australia”.

Unpersuaded that the M&G‘s selection from his 3000-word response two weeks ago does him justice, he has undertaken to send the M&G his 400-word version of events next week.

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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