KARACHI: Karachi University (KU) is yet to launch a formal inquiry into the recent Higher Education Commission (HEC) report seeking action against the acting vice chancellor of Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast), Prof Sulaiman D. Mohammad, whose doctorate degree from the KU, and consequent promotions have been marred with irregularities and accusations of plagiarism.
Within a span of seven months in 2010, Prof Sulaiman was awarded a doctorate degree by the KU, promoted from the post of assistant professor to associate professor, and then professor, which was then followed by his appointment as dean at the university that he now heads.
He was able to get 19 research papers published in ‘international journals’ between 2009 and 2010.
Investigations reveal that most of these research papers, including others, have been declared plagiarised, as well as his PhD thesis, by the HEC.
Coincidentally, all these developments in Prof Sulaiman’s career came at a time when Fuuast was headed by Prof Mohammad Qaiser who now acts as the KU vice chancellor, and has been approached by the HEC for cancellation of Prof Sulaiman’s doctorate degree in economics.
Documentary evidence available with Dawn reveals that the two KU-selected foreign examiners who were tasked to evaluate Prof Sulaiman’s PhD thesis after the first round of allegations were brought up, were not associated with any university or research institute.
One of them recommended that Prof Sulaiman be awarded a degree in Islamic learning instead of economics, which he had in fact applied for. This was because the content in his thesis was more heavily inclined towards Islamic teachings.
Rather than probing this matter by carrying out an independent evaluation of his PhD thesis by subject experts, KU’s Board of Advanced and Studies and Research (BASR) chose to ignore the matter after the external examiner apologised for the “mistake” to a BASR committee, which also did not include any subject experts.
According to senior Fuuast teacher and member of university senate, Dr Iftikhar Tahiri, “had KU properly evaluated Prof Sulaiman’s PhD thesis at that time, the administrative crisis faced by the Urdu university for the past many years would not have become worse, if not improved.”
According to him, KU and Fuuast acted “extraordinarily fast” in Prof Sulaiman’s case.
“Evaluation of a thesis involving foreign examiners, publication of advertisements for vacant posts, holding of selection boards, and finally getting a promotion letter is a long-drawn-out process at public sector institutions.
“However, in the case of Prof Sulaiman, we see all these developments happening in a few months during which he also produced a huge number of research papers,” said Dr Tahiri, adding that the PhD foreign examiners were not subject experts and one of them was based in Saudi Arabia, a country not listed in the HEC list for countries for thesis evaluation.
These allegations are not without substantial grounds. Documents show that Prof Sulaiman was promoted to the post of associate professor without a selection board on June 1, 2010, a clear violation of university rules; his selection board for the post of professor was held on Dec 12, 2010, and the office order of his promotion was issued within three days.
Dr Tahiri further alleged that there were no other applicants in the selection board for the post of professor in which Prof Sulaiman appeared.
A few days later on Dec 18, 2010, Prof Sulaiman was appointed as dean of business administration and management.
‘17 papers in seven months’
Apparently driven by the desire to get promotions in a short time, Prof Sulaiman produced 17 research papers in seven months between Nov 2009 and May 2010. The question that arises is how did he manage to get his work published in foreign journals?
The answer lies in the findings of a 2014 report prepared by Prof Eatzaz Ahmed associated with Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, and Prof Ather Maqsood Ahmed at NUST, Islamabad, both experts in the field of economics.
They examined Prof Sulaiman’s papers on the university’s request which was at the time headed by Prof Zafar Iqbal who had received a complaint from the HEC against Prof Sulaiman.
While the NUST professor described the research work as seriously plagiarised, the QAU expert declared it as ‘moderately plagiarised’ and suggested that action should also be taken against the co-authors by bringing their other publications under scrutiny.
Both experts also expressed serious doubts over the authenticity of journals in which Prof Sulaiman’s work appeared.
“European Journal of Scientific Research, European Journal of Social Sciences, and European Journal of Economics, Finance and Administrative Sciences are not well recognised. They are published from the island of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean with a post box address.
“Such journals fall in the category of those who charge huge sums of money for publishing poor quality research that often lacks authenticity and genuineness. Based on this remark, I have serious doubts over the originality and quality of research carried out by the author/s. I am not sure how the HEC has recognised such journals and ranked them in X, Y or Z categories,” writes Prof Eatzaz Ahmed.
Prof Sulaiman was sacked the following year when the Fuuast committee on plagiarism, after receiving feedback from experts, declared his 19 papers as plagiarised and the university syndicate approved his termination from service in a meeting held in April, 2015.
His removal from service came during the time when Prof Zafar Iqbal had rejoined the university as vice chancellor after getting a stay order against a university senate notification which had sent him on three-month forced leave following a series of allegations.
It is noteworthy that Prof Sulaiman was cleared of plagiarism charges in 2012 during the tenure of Prof Qaiser as vice chancellor. The findings of the committee, which included only one subject expert from KU, were not presented before any statutory body of the university.
Prof Sulaiman, who decided not to file a review application with the university or seek legal help over his removal, emerged as acting Fuuast vice chancellor in August, 2015. It is still a mystery how he was chosen to be the acting vice chancellor as some members of the university senate dispute the minutes of the senate meeting in which the matter was discussed.
Upon contact, Prof Sulaiman argued that the HEC had wrongly analysed his work and that he was preparing an 800-page dossier to the commission to clarify his position.
“They have compared my work with papers that came out after my researches got published. Hence, other people copied my work and not vice versa. The similarity index in my thesis is only 16,” he observed.
He also alleged that former vice chancellor Prof Zafar victimised him with a false inquiry because he was part of the teachers’ movement fighting against his corruption.
Prof Sulaiman believed that a conspiracy was ongoing against him because he exposed malpractices and financial corruption on campus. Regarding the publication of 17 papers in a short time, he Sulaiman argued that he had been working on them for a long time and it was just a coincidence that they were published one after the other.
“I became an associate professor on the recommendation of the rationalisation committee which benefited many other teachers. Second, it is unlawful to carry out an inquiry on the same charges twice if the person has been found innocent in the first inquiry,” he said.
HEC to blacklist ‘plagiarist’
The HEC communicated its position on Prof Sulaiman via email and stated that a “complaint against 22 publications was received and plagiarism in 22 papers is found. Plagiarism is [also] established in the thesis.”
The HEC added that as per policy, KU has been directed to withdrawProf Sulaiman’s PhD thesis, though they have not yet received a response back.
In response to the course of action if KU does not revoke the PhD degree, the response was that “as per policy, HEC will blacklist the plagiarist. HEC benefits shall be denied to the plagiarist. Further, process shall be initiated after consultation with the Law section.”
It also stated that plagiarism was established with the help of relevant software as well as a team of subject experts.
“The similarity index is just one indicator. The decision is made on the basis of the material copied from other sources without proper referencing. One is held for plagiarism for even five per cent similarity from a single source,” explained HEC media director Aayesha Ikram.
The co-authors of the plagiarised work, she added, were equally responsible and would be dealt with accordingly.
KU vice chancellor Prof Mohammad Qaiser, however, defended the fast track promotions and called it common for university teachers to get promotions in a single year. He added that Prof Sulaiman was cleared of plagiarism charges by a committee which included an HEC nominee in 2012.
“Notwithstanding, the KU will take action if plagiarism was established by the university’s relevant committee.”
It is noteworthy that while Prof Sulaiman assumed the powers to head the university within a few years following his PhD, his teacher under whom he did his doctorate is still an assistant professor at the university.
Courtesy : Dawn News