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"Dottore" - A Primer on Romania's Plagiarism Scandals

It is not enough that Romania's politicians are smug, incompetent, and generally reprehensible, but their pathetic lack of self-awareness also feeds a seemingly overpowering impulse for outrageous narcissism.

It's as if they were saying, "Step aside, Trump, let us show you how it's done."

The phenomenon can be summed up in the wisdom of an old Romanian proverb, 'Prostul nu e prost destul, daca nu e si fudul'. It basically means, "a fool is not enough a fool,  if he's not a blowhard too."

Which brings me to the matter at hand.

I've never directly addressed Romania's plagiarism scandals. In part, maybe, because if that was the worst thing our politicians were doing to this country, I wouldn't have other things to write about. But also because I always saw it as symptomatic of a more deeply rooted cultural issue.

For added context, for non-Romanian readers, think of the Asian parents stereotype. From an early age kids are pressured into getting high grades at school. Nota zece, (a 10, the equivalent of an A+, in Romania) is the single measure of success available to a child during his formative years. It is valued above all else and cherished as if it were the only goal worth pursuing in a young person's life. This attitude might be changing with some of the newer generations, but the current crop of political leaders, parliamentarians, and bureaucrats (of which there are many), certainly grew up in this cultural environment.

In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence, even early on, but this is not really a discussion about academic achievement.

This is about power and prestige.

In Romanian politics the party designates its movers and shakers through political appointments in key ministries and positions. It is not based on merit - at least not in the way you or I might define it.  To be fair, this is not a symptom exclusive to Romania's political class, but educated Romanians tend to be critical thinkers highly attuned to the nuances of language, so it is difficult to ignore, especially when it is obvious that "[these people] couldn’t have a PhD in a correct and proper way”.

The outlook, growing up, is that only very smart people make it to the top (legitimately). A PhD, then, is the ultimate 'very smart person' stamp of approval. But, as you can imagine, it doesn't make any difference if you can't grasp simple macroeconomic concepts so long as you're part of a system where a rubber stamp goes a lot further than your actual ability.

But this mentality goes back even further, to the time of lords and boyars

Romania is a country where wealth and social status are respected, maybe even feared, but intellect is rather revered. People here have always valued wisdom and intelligence (not that they are necessarily correlated) as qualities that set someone apart from the rest. This mentality has lingered and, in part, remodeled itself into a pursuit of scholarly credentials, which also serves as a legitimizing factor for the undue power and influence granted to these buffoons.

It is really the only explanation for the disproportionate amount of 'doctors' polluting Romania's political landscape. As a former president once said about a former prime minister, "when you're a Doctor of Law, you really are somebody..."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is just a matter of social pressure, nor that the perpetrators are, in a twisted way, victims of their cultural upbringing. The truth is they are just a bunch of assholes. I think we can all agree that assholes often do what they do just because they think they can get away with it.

Until they don't.

- Victor Ponta, the reviled former PM (whom the aforementioned president was referring to), wanted a PhD in addition to his law degree, so he copied extensively, without attributing multiple passages in his thesis.
- Florentin Pandele, mayor of Voluntari, and husband of Gabriela Firea, the mayor of Bucharest, enrolled in the National Defense University where he was awarded two doctorates in subjects completed unrelated to his undergraduate studies. He copied a third of his PhD thesis.
- Petre Toba, former minister of interior, copied over 250 of the 390 pages of his doctorate from various works.
- Nine ministers, including the current PM, Mihai Tudose, relinquished their PhDs when the cat came out of the bag over the rampant plagiarism in the upper echelons of political power.

In case you're wondering, it's not that every Romanian university is completely lacking in standards for academic integrity, it's that certain universities are completely lacking in these standards. Chiefly among these are the Carol 1 National Defense University, a public institution, and Spiru Haret, a private university.  That said, the standards of academic integrity in Romania are hardly stringent. When broaching the subject, friends of mine, graduates of prestigious Romanian universities, told me they never had to sign any sort of academic integrity/anti-plagiarism document. Meanwhile, in Canadian universities, students fill out and sign these forms for every course that requires essay writing, throughout their entire university career.

And Romanians are surprised that none of the country's universities can crack the world's Top 100. 

What, me copy?


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