It took us four years to find out why the only correct decision – that Sinisa Mali had stolen other people’s research results (Mali also stole from Wikipedia) and presented them as his doctoral thesis – hasn’t been reached by the university yet. This was explained by the new rector of the University of Belgrade Ivanka Popovic. She says: “This case is in the spotlight, often perceived so non-objectively and emotionally, that many people refuse to enter the commission to analyze the doctoral thesis in order to avoid becoming a part of the media circus.” In addition, Popović explained that, until recently, there were no rules based on which it would be possible to determine that Mali’s doctorate is plagiarism. Finally, she complained that, because of the “spotlight” the whole case has caused damage to the University: “I must say that the absolute majority of the papers that are written at the University of Belgrade are the result of hard work and effort of the researchers dedicated to their fields and that these few potentially poorly done works should not give the University a bad name, nor should any conclusions be made until the procedure is completed “. Each segment of these explanations points to the wrong track. With good reasons, we now have to wonder if Popovic is deliberately lying and deceiving or if she is only misinformed. Whichever is true, the claim that a person who lies and deliberately deceives the public or simply doesn’t know anything shouldn’t be the head of the University – would be wrong. Exactly this kind of person is supposed to be the head of an educational institution overgrown in lies and ignorance.
Let’s try to put the rector’s thoughts into some kind of order: 1) The people from the University work hard and honestly. So hard and so honestly, in fact, that they couldn’t even imagine someone would steal and lie. Rector: “So far, we’ve had unspoken rules on development of scientific works which were implicitly obeyed”, she said and added that it is now necessary to establish clear rules to avoid plagiarism. 2) Then came Sinisa Mali, like some evil demon and gave the University a bad name. As there were no rules governing this area, no reaction was possible. 3) Even once the rules were established, the “spotlight” was still the problem. Because this means that this problem would be analyzed “non-objectively and emotionally”. Non-objectivity and emotions create a “media circus” which doesn’t sit well with “honest” university professors.
Let’s start by pointing out that claims 2) and 3) are mutually exclusive. The decision about the plagiarism wasn’t made either because there were no rules or because of the “media circus” surrounding the plagiarism. It can’t be both. The existence of rules is irrelevant if getting away from the “circus” is a priority for the professors. In other words, if the fear of the “circus” is enough for someone to decide not to participate in something, it doesn’t matter if the rules are there or not. And vice versa: if the rules are strong, the “circus” is irrelevant. If they were waiting for the rules to be established, the fear of the “circus” is irrelevant when it comes to reasons for the delay in reaching the decision. And besides, if the rules are so important, the “circus” and the “spotlight” must be put aside.
The rector’s first claim is also wrong. The simple, undeniable fact is that Sinisa Mali couldn’t have accepted his own doctoral thesis and proclaimed himself doctor. The majority of the Faculty of organizational science was part of this – from the commission members to the dean. Furthermore, the faculty supported Mali when the plagiarism was discovered, by claiming that he did cheat, but that it doesn’t matter. This kills the rector’s first claim that the University professors work hard and honestly. Without such a corrupt University, Mali’s plagiarism couldn’t have been accepted as a doctorate.
The rector’s opinion about the “spotlight” and “media circus” is also worth noting. Just a reminder – without this “spotlight”, the plagiarism wouldn’t even have been discovered. The “spotlight” did what University professors should have done. It was up to them to uncover the plagiarism. (Speaking of which, where was Popovic these past four years and what did she do as a university professor?) Since they failed to do this (not all of them, of course, some of them spoke up, but not Popovic), the “spotlight” did it for them. Instead of thanking the “spotlight” for standing up for the university’s good “name”, the rector blamed it for the “media circus”. What exactly constitutes a “circus” for the rector? I ask the rector (and the readers) to read the article “How Sinisa Mali stole the doctorate” once again. Which parts of that article are “non-objective and emotional”? How can you “non-objectively and emotionally” establish that someone neglected to place quotation marks around someone else’s words? And how can that fact “non-objectively and emotionally” lead to the conclusion that we are talking about plagiarism? Which element of this whole thing is a “circus”?
It doesn’t end there: why does the “spotlight”, i.e. “the public” bother the rector, even if it was a “circus”? This doctoral candidate is not just anyone. He’s a public figure holding a high political office. What’s more, this person has just been politically awarded for his (academic) theft. Mali becoming the minister of finance is only possible in a country with a “circus” government. But the rector is clear: she’s not talking about the political circus; she has a problem with the “media circus”. Does this mean that the political circus doesn’t bother her? We don’t need to get into the speculations on what bothers the rector. Unfortunately, she is just another typical representative of Serbian academic discourse. Politics is dirty, while the University is supposed to be clean. That is why they should be kept separate from each other, even though the “spotlight” shows that they are pressed tightly together. When this connection is brought into the light, they call it a “circus” and push the evidence aside. Instead of lamenting over the poor fate of high education, the rector should explain how it was possible for an entire faculty to firmly support academic theft and for the other faculties, and the University itself, to remain silent for four years and do nothing but look for (poor) excuses for their silence. If she doesn’t do that, she will be just another academic clown in the regime circus.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016) i „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016).