UNISA opens plagiarism investigation against USL Vice Chancellor

The University of South Africa (UNISA) has commenced an internal investigation into a report which listed cases of plagiarism found in a dissertation submitted to its College of Education by one of its former students, Ekundayo Jonathan David Thompson from Sierra Leone.

The University of South Africa, through a long-distance learning program, awarded Ekundayo Thompson a Doctorate degree in Education in 2004, and President Ernest Bai Koroma appointed him Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone in 2013.

He had submitted a dissertation titled, “An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Non-Formal Schools and Centers in the Urban Areas of Kenya” as part of the requirements for the award of the long-distance doctorate degree in education from the University of South Africa. But a recent report by a team of international investigators in the United States of America has uncovered numerous cases of evidence suggesting that the said dissertation is the result of serious cases of plagiarism.

The report clearly stated that the dissertation submitted by Ekundayo Thompson to the University of South Africa for his doctorate degree has been found to contain passages and sentences that constitute overwhelming cases of plagiarism.

The plagiarism allegations listed in the report have been sent to the University of South Africa by a team of international journalists and researchers seeking clarification on the charges.

“Over the last couple of months, we have been looking at various aspects of E.J.D. Thompson’s “scholarship” and educational background, including a verification of the “Dissertation” he submitted to UNISA in fulfillment of the requirement for the award of his D.Ed. in 2004. Our investigation, has revealed evidence of several cases of plagiarism in the “Dissertation” submitted to UNISA by Thompson,” the investigators said in a recent correspondence to UNISA.

They pointed out that Thompson’s dissertation contains between 32% and 37% evidence of plagiarism.

“We focused only on overwhelming cases that can be easily found in conventionally published literature. Limiting our scope on this type of evidential material found in Chapters 1 and 2, we are able to safely say that the whole “Dissertation” in question contains between 32% and 37% passages and sentences that were found to be not unique to the author, and are therefore treated as cases of obvious plagiarism,” they stated in the report.

UNISA records indicated that Professor Eleanor Lemmer, a research professor in the College of Education, supervised Thompson’s dissertation in 2004. Investigators said they had earlier presented the plagiarism evidence to Professor Lemmer, the supervisor, but she offered no comments on the evidence.

In a correspondence dated May 16, 2016 Professor Lemmer only suggested that the matter be referred to the Research Directorate of the University of South Africa.

“I am in the process of retiring from the University of South Africa and I will have to refer your complaint to the Research Directorate of UNISA,” she wrote.

Earlier information from Professor Lemmer, however, revealed that Ekundayo Thompson scored only a pass in his dissertation evaluation in 2004.

Following months of communication and exchange of correspondences between investigators and UNISA authorities, the matter has now been sent to the University’s Vice Principal of Research and Innovation, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

In a correspondence dated June 15, 2016 Professor Phakeng has ordered an investigation into the findings of the report.

“I request that you investigate these allegations. I am copying the Dean of the College of Education (Prof McKay) for information since the allegations are about a graduate for CEDU and the Vice Principal for Teaching and Learning so that at least another member of Management is aware of this,” she wrote to Professor Michelle Havenga, the Acting Executive Dean of the College of Graduate Studies.

“My view is that this is a very serious matter and I trust that you colleagues will deal with it well,” Prof. Phakeng said.

Observers say the UNISA investigation might recommend the withdrawal of the doctorate degree awarded to Ekundayo Thompson if the allegations in the report are corroborated by the University’s internal investigation.

The international investigation team, however, stated in its report that the evidence contained in the plagiarism report was verified through multiple checking tools used by the publishing industry, and that the clinical verification carried out on Thompson’s dissertation show that the document cannot pass any plagiarism check regardless of the tool employed.

“Our overall findings are that, the entire “Dissertation”, from the above evidence in Chapters 1 & 2, cannot pass any plagiarism test regardless of the method of verification or the plagiarism tool(s) employed,” the report concluded.

Investigators said they had sent the report of the said plagiarism findings to Ekundayo Thompson himself nearly two months ago for his reaction, but he refused to offer any comment on the matter.

“I will not talk to you or anyone concerning this matter. I know the reason why you people are after me,” Ekundayo Thompson said angrily on the phone when he was contacted for a response.

The international investigation, which uncovered the plagiarism evidence, has also been looking at other aspects relating to Ekundayo Thompson’s academic qualifications and the many problems affecting higher education in Sierra Leone.

In a separate investigation report released in early May 2016, they had earlier questioned Thompson’s academic qualifications and the criteria used in his professorial promotion. That report also revealed significant findings, which seriously challenged the credibility of the academic publications listed against Thompson’s name, which they said, might have formed part of the folio that was probably used to determine his qualifications for a professorial position.

Those earlier findings equally pointed to a long chain of irregularities ranging from academic fraud and intellectual deception. It also gave a clear case of how Ekundayo Thompson’s listed publications on Amazon, for instance, did not qualify as academic publications because they failed to meet the publishing industry’s publication standards and distribution requirements. That report also stated, among other things, that Thompson’s listed publications are not formally published academic materials or standard trade publications.

A senior lecturer at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) described the Thompson story as staggering.

“It is the germ of an international disgrace in the making,” he said. “These are serious allegations that call into question the whole basis of integrity in academe. It raises questions about how Thompson was hired; who hired him; and how he got promoted to a professorship in the space of six years after his long-distance degree,” he emphasized, adding that the situation is unprecedented and deserves to be investigated at all levels.

The University of Sierra Leone itself has been at the center of serious controversy since Thompson was appointed to head the country’s premier institution of higher learning by Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone.

In early April 2016, a report by the London-based Economist Magazine revealed that the university’s student population of over seven thousand has only a total of nine academic professors. All but two are due to retire in the next two years.

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