The University of Newcastle sat on its “most serious” plagiarism allegations for more than four months, only acting when a television show peppered the institution with questions, the Independent Commission Against Corruption heard yesterday.
But the vice-chancellor, Roger Holmes, told ICAC it was coincidental that one day after the media inquiries, the university finally began investigating a lecturer’s detailed claim that 15 post-graduate business students had copied slabs of essays from the internet. …
The university set up an inquiry after the Herald and Newcastle Herald broke the story in March 2003, but Professor Holmes said yesterday that despite the plagiarism allegations being potentially the “most serious” in the institution’s history, the terms of reference left it “optional” to find out whether students had cheated. …
When Professor Lamond handed down his report in March last year, it was apparent that he had exercised his option not to investigate the allegations of plagiarism, ICAC heard yesterday.
The ICAC commissioner, Peter Hall, SC, asked the vice-chancellor what he then did to find out whether plagiarism had occurred.
“We didn’t do anything at that particular time,” Professor Holmes said.
This lack of action led Mr Firns to write to the vice-chancellor in April, calling for a “credible” review of the papers, according to documents tendered at ICAC.
In replying, however, the vice-chancellor told Mr Firns: “Do not bother me again“, the commission heard. “I regret saying that … it was off the cuff.”
Immediately after the Sunday television program covered the story in August 2003, Professor Holmes issued a statement saying the university vigorously investigated claims of soft marking.
Yet, when asked by Mr Hall to name one fact supporting this assertion in relation to this “most serious” of cases, Professor Holmes could not.
Mr Hall said that the vice-chancellor appeared to have been guilty of a “dereliction of duty”.
Asked to explain his lack of action, Professor Holmes said that “there’s got to be an explanation [but] I don’t have an explanation.”
Words fail me.