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Commentariat: Law Faculty in Plzeň and the state of the country

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On 7 October the Education Ministry announced it is planning to file suit against the Law Faculty in Plzeň, where hundreds of students received master’s degrees after much less than the required five years of study and dozens of dissertation papers are missing.

The scandal began on 19 September when Lidové noviny reported that the vice dean of the Plzeň Law Faculty, Ivan Tomažič, plagiarised dozens of pages in his dissertation paper submitted in 2006. The plagiarised paper was led by the faculty’s other Vice Dean Milan Kindl and evaluated by Dean Jaroslav Zachariáš. Tomažič at first claimed the quotation is within permitted rules but the Dean later explained that Tomažič did it on purpose serving as a decoy for an alleged informer, adding the real dissertation by Tomažič is different and passed through official procedure. Ondřej Nezbeda compared the Dean’s explanation to “an arrogance and ridiculousness worthy of a 10-year-old boy who stole a cactus but is afraid to confess to it despite the thorns coming through the pocket of his sweater”.

A week later Rector of the University of West Bohemia announced 35 dissertation papers were missing from the library. Head of the Education Ministry accreditation committee Vladimíra Dvořáková said the committee will insist on seeing the papers since it has been suspected they might not actually exist or might be plagiarised. Dvořáková later announced that some students at the school had received an MA after just two months study and that hundreds of others received diplomas in under five years. Among the missing papers are those submitted by ODS Chomutov Mayor Ivana Řápková, lawyer Eduard Bruba who defended former KDU-ČSL Chairman Jiří Čunek in the corruption affair and a number of other public figures.

Adriana Krnáčová, head of Czech branch of Transparency International, wrote in Hospodářské noviny that the “recent development of the events at the Plzeň Law Faculty is unfortunately a good and probably also faithful image of our society”. Petr Honzejk, writing for Hospodářské noviny, follows along the same lines saying the story of the Plzeň Law Faculty is far from surprising. “Critical lack of anything creates a black market. There is a lack of university diplomas in the Czech Republic (only one in seven is a university graduate, half of the OECD average).”

While Krnáčová asks “what message does such school offer its students?”. Honzejk emphasises the need to differentiate between diplomas from various universities explaining that “when the companies and state offices will be able to choose between students and demand real quality, the universities themselves will improve the control and there will be fewer frauds”. Martin Weiss in Lidové noviny likens people’s perception of academic institutions to a “turnstile towards a job”. Weiss concludes that “legal regulation of education requirements for various positions will not change anything since the mass will deal with it just like it did in Plzeň”. Nezbeda in Respekt points out that the scandal came in the times when the “President has been talking about the technocracy of judges and attacking the institution of the Constitutional Court ” and asks what effect will this have on a “citizen when the trust in the highest and last legal instance in the country is being questioned”.

The faculty’s Dean Jaroslav Zachariáš and both Vice Deans Ivan Tomažič and Milan Kindl resigned. Former Justice Minister and faculty graduate Jiří Pospíšil took over and ordered an audit.

• Would the regulation of education requirements for certain positions help?
• What would be the way to establish differentiation between university diplomas?
• How to evaluate the quality of universities without bias?

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