Academic Plagiarism in a Country of Cynics
Beyond potential political allegiances and personal phobias, we should ask ourselves how serious is the alleged academic plagiarism attributed to President Enrique Peña Nieto by Carmen Aristegui.
According to the report presented by the journalist last Sunday on her website, the chief executive of the state plagiarized at least ten authors in his thesis “Mexican presidentialism and Alvaro Obregón” which he presented at the Pan American University for the completion of his bachelor's degree in Law.
By comparing paragraphs of the thesis with the works of the aforementioned authors, Aristegui asserted that at least 197 of the 682 paragraphs that make up the text (28.8 percent) were copied by Peña Nieto, without specifying titles and authors in the critical apparatus of his academic piece.
The Presidency replied by stating these were stylistic errors--such as not citing authors in quotations--and that the President stuck to the qualification requirements of the Pan American University.
The university later stated that the thesis will be examined and that, with their prestige at stake, they will determine whether there was plagiarism and whether or not to remove the academic degree they awarded the President. The Opus Dei affiliated University asserted they have the established protocols to do so, although they did not specify them. Hopefully the University possesses the set protocols which the vast majority of Mexican universities claim they have.
Otherwise, there are few cases in which our higher education institutions have imposed penalties for academic plagiarism. According to a paper titled “Plagio de tesis y universidad” by J. Castro Sergio Becerra (http://bit.ly/2bfZKX6), there is only one precedent at UNAM: that of Dr. Boris Berenzon Gorn (2013), who was finally disenrolled from the University without having his degree removed.
In contrast, Christian Núñez Arancibia’s Ph.D in social sciences at the Colegio de México was revoked. Although the institution, in doing so, did not use the term plagiarism, but rather “breach of the originality”--according to an article published by Roberto Breña for the Nexos Journal on July 13th, 2015.
To the extent to which universities lack rules or measures to avoid and sanction plagiarism, an absence of rigor has also been shown by some thesis advisors. Peña Nieto’s advisor was the current magistrate Alfonso Guerrero, who, according to Esteban Illades in another article in Nexos, has supervised 193 theses and participated as jury in 367 professional examinations. Pablo Mijangos, a history professor from CIDE, speculates that to properly supervise 193 theses and furthermore to carefully read 367, you would need a lifetime. Guerrero, unlike Mijangos, is not a full time professor.
How does he manage? Perhaps, similarly to universities abroad, he makes use of websites such as turnitin.com which verifies the authenticity of the text to determine the likelihood of plagiarism.
If we then take into account the few edited copies of a professional thesis that remain in the libraries of the universities that grant the degree, we are faced with circumstances in which it is difficult to detect plagiarism.
Under the veil of such impunity, the practice has become common in undergraduate and graduate programs. They are “shortcuts” to complete a prestigious goal that certainly is very difficult to achieve. Just by taking a look at data from the OECD collected in 2013, only 17 percent of Mexicans pursue a degree and, of those, only 38 percent graduate with a degree. Moreover, of the 112 million who graduate, less than a million have completed a postgraduate degree.
To plagiarize is to substantially copy other people's work and present it as your own. It is, then, a robbery, a trap. Someone who plagiarizes steals intellectual property, while cheating and damaging the academic and educational efforts of a country.
I do not know if Peña Nieto plagiarized his thesis with full consciousness or if it was, as the Presidency claims, a lack of stylistic rigor. I do not know if at the time he aspired or knew he was going to be President. He should know, though, that all our actions have consequences. But this ethical dimension is increasingly becoming scarcer in a country of cynics who recurrently argue that you cannot move forward without taking shortcuts and someone who says that they never cheated at school are hypocrites.
Who can assure you that someone who cheated once will not do so again? Because someone who cheats once cheats twice. Such is the scenario of mistrust surrounding the President, beyond any considerations that he is a victim of journalism that emerged from the grudges and phobias of its producer.
About the Author
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more