December 1, 2015

200 South Korean professors to be indicted for plagiarism



Plagiarism is bad.

It’s been a busy few months for South Korea’s Uijeongbu District Prosecutors’ Office. Since September of this year, in the process of investigating the country’s rampant problem with textbook plagiarism, the office has called in a total of 200 professors for questioning.

The profs stand accused of lifting texts from previously published textbooks and republishing them under their own names—allegedly done in an effort to enhance their research portfolios in advance of rehiring periods. The academics are predominantly from the fields of science and engineering and represent 50 different South Korean universities.

Now, The Korea Herald reports that most of those accused of the textbook plagiarism have admitted guilt and are set to be indicted next month.

The discovery is shocking.

Well, sort of. Korea does have a bit of  history when it comes to academic misconduct. For instance, it was revealed by the BBC that Hwang U-seok‘s research into human embryo cloning was faked. And there was that time that Asia Sentinel’s Lin Neumann reported that curator and art professor Shin Jeong-ah had fabricated her lofty Yale University credentials. Then there was the time when presidential chief of staff Huh Tae-Yeol admitted to plagiarizing his doctoral thesis.

Okay, not so shocking.

Still, for a seemingly haphazard, indefensible scheme, it is expansive—and not at all new. In an interview with The Korea Herald, Kim Young-jong, a representative of the Uijeongbu prosector’s office, noted that these banal acts have actually been going on since as early as 1980. The prosecution only lacked the proof to bring the issue to court.

More surprising, maybe, is the fact that the professors did not act alone. As Yonhap News of the Korea Observer reports, four publishing employees from three publishes houses will also face legal consequences. “In some cases, the publishers took existing textbooks in their inventories, ripped the covers off and replaced them with new ones before selling them,” she writes.

Indeed, The Korea Herald reported: “Publishers ignored the practice or even encouraged professors to help offload unsold science books by redesigning them as new ones, prosecutors said.” And, sadly, the textbooks’ original authors weren’t much help either:

The original authors also allegedly turned a blind eye to the practice under pressure to maintain a favorable relationship with the publishers for future book deals. Some of them are suspected of having taken kickbacks from publishers in return for keeping quiet.

Anyone who violates copyright law in South Korea is subject to imprisonment of up to five years, as well as a penalty of 50 million South Korean Won (approximately $43,000). Given that Korean universities have policies against rehiring employees who have been fined for more than 3 million Won ($2,600), the 200 professors will be dismissed from their posts. Considering South Korea’s history of academic corruption, however, it will be interesting to see if the mass dismissal actually comes to pass.


Chad Felix is the Manager of Direct Sales and Library Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.