Photo: Predrag Trokicic

Photo: Predrag Trokicic

Minister Sarcevic has busted up the national academic community. The Law on Higher Education stomped over the last remnants of academic integrity and competence. This law is just the cherry on top of the cake, which one part of the Cyrillic-obsessed university professors and most of their colleagues didn’t even notice. In the orchestrated public debate on the draft law, the deans and professors were ridiculed and their proposals were implicitly deemed irrelevant or simply rejected. Of course, this final blow against universities and the demonstration of brute political force could not have been arranged without the help of the regime’s associates among university employees. Like all other areas in the country, higher education will be organized in a strict hierarchy, with the minister of education at the top, easily shaping higher education according to party interests. Today, it seems that this is just another deviant policy whose main goal is to concentrate all power in one person. Of course, this is not the case, because another step follows. The structure which is being built is turning the entire education system into something similar to a plasticine mass waiting to be shaped by the particular economic interests focused on savings, when budget money is spent, and on profit, when it’s possible to fill private pockets with budget funds.

Education professionals had their fair share of opportunities to fight this and avoid the final breakdown. And they missed them all. Even when they could raise their voice against the unlawful reduction of salaries of public servants, they didn’t. OK, they might have wisely estimated that they would be met with public condemnation if it seemed that they only react to financial constraints to their own pockets. Instead, let’s look at plagiarism. As if there were not enough humiliation, and as if the passing of a new law did not finally end the war, the National Council is exulting over the defeated by an offensive decision to appoint a “professor from Italy” as “a member of the expert committee to analyze the disputed doctoral dissertation of the mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali”. The explanation is two-fold. First: “Professor Veraldi is fluent in Serbian, which means he is able to read it”. In addition, “he is the author of numerous scientific papers in sociology, economic development, company economics, and social and economic systems in transition, and more. He is a scientist of truly prominent reputation”. Second: since “a significant number of university professors in Belgrade have already been involved in various stages of the procedure related to this doctoral dissertation (at FON, in professional bodies of the University, etc.) and claimed conflict of interest, the National Council has decided to appoint a distinguished foreign professor as a member of the expert committee”. According to the Council, this will eliminate “various political undertones from a topic that is primarily academic”.

In other words, this is what the National Council is saying: the local academic community is not capable of dealing with the subject of academic theft, for two reasons: university employees in Serbia are not competent enough to validly consider the complex thinking of Sinisa Mali, so it is necessary to call upon an expert from Italy; they are not even morally acceptable because they tend to politicize “primarily academic” subjects, so an Italian moral giant is needed. Besides the honorable work of the Council, the fact that we are dealing with a moral giant is also evidenced by the fact that the former president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic, (I can’t resist: Toma, come back!) honored the distinguished professor with the Golden Medal for Service. He did this at the suggestion of the Faculty of Philology – an institution whose employees can certainly assess the value of the work of the Italian professor “in sociology, economic development, company economics, and social and economic systems in transition”. This is what the National Council has to say about the local academic “scum”. On the other hand, university employees are silent. Because there’s nothing they can do: they have been failing at determining the obvious for three years – that Sinisa Mali is an intellectual thief. Okay, let’s leave them in their silence and deal with the theft itself.

There are various dishonest actions that can be committed in academic writing. It is possible, for example, to steal someone else’s idea or argument and present them as your own: as we used to say it in school – to use your own words to re-tell someone else’s thoughts, but to withhold the source. In order to uncover this kind of fine academic theft, one really needs to be competent and informed. There are, however, much more banal intellectual “borrowings”: one could simply copy someone else’s sentences, omit the quotation marks, and fail to cite the source. In order to discover this kind of academic dishonesty, no expertise is needed. You simply compare the texts, determine the matches, see which article was published first, and – voila.  Plagiarism. Of course, in his doctoral thesis, Sinisa Mali managed to implement only this first level of academic theft. To get to the higher level would mean that he had actually read something, thought about it, and adopted it. On top of this, he would have to be decently literate to articulate other people’s thoughts as his own. Sinisa Mali’s doctorate is based on cheating. In order to determine whether he copied other people’s work or not, no experts are required, neither Serbian nor Italian. Any child at a grade school level, perhaps even from the lower grades, could do this. The child need only say whether the sentences resemble each other or not. And, if they do, whether there are quotation marks in one of the two texts that are being compared.

There is only one way to defend the work of Sinisa Mali as original. There is this old joke – if you taught a monkey to hit the keyboard and gave him enough time, about as long as eternity, there is a probability that, at one point, the entire text of “War and Peace” would appear on the screen. Similarly, an expert could say that a miracle has happened, and that Sinisa Mali, through a strike of insane fortune, pulled off something a monkey would take an eternity to do.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 21.10.2017.

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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), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola. Novi prilozi za drugačiji kurikulum: SF, horror, fantastika“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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