Submission of evidence to IUSS (Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee) regarding plagiarism at Liverpool John Moores University

Introduction

I would like to submit written evidence on "plagiarism" at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). I have been fighting for years to expose the truth about plagiarism at the University but to no avail. I have recently written to the Rt. Hon Mr John Denham MP, Secretary of State for DIUS and Professor Paul Ramsden, Chief Executive for HEA regarding this issue. I have also formally written to HEFCE (evidence enclosed:[346] electronic correspondence with Professor David Eastwood) and QAA (evidence enclosed letter from Mr Peter Williams to the Chairman of Select Committee on IUSS) asking for the issue to be thoroughly investigated.

It was made clear to HEFCE and QAA that I am unwilling to disclose the substantive, compelling and indisputable evidence of plagiarism at the University without protection against future litigation (please see Mr Peter Williams letter to the House of Common on 30 October 2008).[348] The position of these organisations is that they cannot investigate my revelations without disclosing my identity to the University, nor can they offer me protection against future litigation.

I understand the only available pathway to divulge the truth to the public about plagiarism at the University is through the "Parliament Protection Privilege". To this end, enclosed please find a very small sample of the plagiarised students' course work reports as evidence.

1. Background information

I am Professor of Applied Physiology and worked at the University till I was summarily dismissed on 3 January 2007. I have contributed significantly to the British Education over the last 30 years in the teaching and research domains (please see enclosed statements by colleagues). This encompassed academic and administrative commitments including the supervision of several Ph.D. and MSc students to successful completion. I have published more than 200 refereed articles, scientific correspondence items, and meeting abstracts. My capability as a teacher and researcher furnish the grounds for my personal written evidence to IUSS on plagiarism at the University…

3. Plagiarism: the case

As it was advised by [committee staff], I sent to the Committee a very few course work of the students' plagirised reports. I would be happy to send substantially more plagiarised reports if this is required at this stage. These reports clearly and unambiguously exhibit the following:
— The verbatim copying of another's work within reports without clear identification and acknowledgements. This is defined as plagiarism according to the University's definition.
— That some or all of the students appear to have copied review articles and text books carelessly. Unidentified and unacknowledged quotations from another work are the main feature of the students' course work reports. This is plagiarism according to the University's definition.
— That some or all the references at the back of the report are not referred to within the text. This is plagiarism according to the University's definition.

3.1 The majority of students are tempted to lift sections of words from published papers or from textbooks. This is a very serious problem in the University. The students were clearly informed at the beginning of each academic semester and prior to the submission of the course work that this lifting is known as plagiarism and it is a very serious academic offence (please sees evidence attached). Students were also informed when they were handed back their course work reports to reinforce the point.

3.2 The first lecture of each new semester was allocated for an overview of the module syllabuses and the subject of the course work assignment. An over head projector was used to advise the students how to write their assignments and avoid plagiarism in line with the University's Modular Framework Assessment Regulations. A single printed sheet of A4 under the title "Assignment general and specific comments" was handed to the students at the commencement of the semester. This sheet contained a number of comments defining plagiarism and stating why it was unacceptable (please sees evidence attached). Students were advised to develop their own ideas and arguments and learn how to express themselves. They were informed about the seriousness of plagiarism and how to avoid it. The enclosed "Assignment general and specific comments" sheet was clearly explained to the students and at the commencement of each new semester, during the semester, and prior to the submission of the course work.

3.3 Students were also referred to the University's Modular Framework Assessment Regulations (Section D Appendix C) regarding academic impropriety and that their course work should conform to those regulations. Students were advised to show that they have learnt about and can use other people work. They were taught how to quote and reference to show where they got the material from. Students were clearly informed that, in their assignment, when discussing other people ideas, they should acknowledge where the ideas came from with supporting references.

3.4 Students were advised that they must avoid direct copying from published papers or textbooks as this practice may suggest that they are incapable of using ideas for themselves. Students were also informed not to rely heavily on copying out segments from printed literature as copying the literature obscure whether the students understand the topic of the course work. Students, when submitted their course work reports, were required to sign a declaration that all sources consulted have been appropriately acknowledged (evidence submitted as attached to some of the plagiarised course work reports already sent to the Committee).

4. Although plagiarism is a very serious academic impropriety as clearly stated in the University's Modular Framework Assessment Regulations (Section D Appendix C), the University management has not taken this issue seriously.

4.1 The University strategies to identify plagiarism were inadequate and the procedures available to combat plagiarism were ineffective. I repeatedly tried to have my concerns about excessive toleration of plagiarism considered by the University. However, I was constantly put off by the University Management. All my complaints were ignored despite a litany of requests for action and no penalties were sanctioned when plagiarism was suspected and detected.

4.2 I had numerous grounds of grievances in relation to plagiarism over the years against colleagues and Management at the University. Most notably in May and December 2003 I have attempted to have my grievances about excessive toleration of plagiarism dealt with and investigated under the University's grievance procedures. This never happened.

4.3 When I suspected and identified plagiarism, the University should have taken my concerns seriously and a thorough investigation should have been conducted promptly in line with the University's regulations. This never happened.

4.4 I was only allowed to down mark the plagiarised assignment by 10% (see attached evidence entitled "Disciplinary Case"). I was not allowed to sanction more severe penalty or to fail any plagiarised course work during the consultation and moderation processes. Following my suspension, two Managers at the School alleged that they have remarked the assignments and came to the conclusion that no plagiarism had taken place (evidence would be provided on request). The external examiner confirmed the Managers conclusion (evidence would be provided on request)! I viewed this as an unacceptable practice. I believe that the managers at the University in collaboration with the external examiner were trying to cover up plagiarism.

4.5 I raised my concern about plagiarism through the University's procedures but it was then converted into a disciplinary against me with allegations that I had not followed University procedures, which is not true (see attached evidence entitled "Disciplinary Case"). There has been not the merest hint of actually dealing with the issue of plagiarism and I was stopped from providing the evidence I had gathered (abundant compelling evidence is available on request). This demonstrates, I believe, disregard for professional standards to an extent that should be intolerable in a British University.

4.6 Instead of investigating and determining my concerns of May and December 2003 in respect of plagiarism, managers at the University chose to suspend me on 10 December 2003. I was suspended for an unimaginable long time while the most dilatory "investigation" imaginable was conducted. This is viewed as the worst kind of sharp practice. Then I was accused of gross professional misconduct. The University managers made up false allegations against me to justify "Gross Professional Misconduct". I was eventually dismissed in January 2007 following an investigation and grievance and disciplinary hearing in October 2006. In April 2007 I appealed to the University's Board of Governors against the dismissal, but my appeal was not upheld and the final dismissal decision was conveyed to me in May 2007. The investigation was flawed in design and substance. The grievance and disciplinary and the appeal hearings were discriminatory and I was unfairly dismissed.

5. Through the University College Union (UCU) Legal Services Department, three claims (one in 2005 and two in 2007) were lodged with the Employment Tribunal and 20 days have been allocated for hearing the case commencing 14 January 2008. These complaints were based, among other issues, on protected disclosures in relation to plagiarism and overseas students' bench fees and unfair dismissal.

5.1 The Employment Tribunal hearings to a full trial never took place as I was virtually forced to enter into a compromise agreement with confidentiality clauses attached. The compromise agreement was signed on my behalf by the UCU's Director of the Legal Department as I was in a hysterical state and heavily sedated with medications and utterly refused to sign the compromise agreement.

6. My health disintegrated further as can be established by reference to several medical reports including one by the University's own occupational health doctor.

6.1 My academic career is now completely ruined, my health is ruined and the normal social fabric of my family is in a state of turmoil. The damage to my reputation and to my name and career is immense.

7. Conclusion and Recommendation

I do believe that the unfortunate story of plagiarism at Liverpool John Moores University is in the public interest and it is therefore my responsibility to bring the above facts to the IUS Select Committee Attention. The corrupted practices by the University are a threat to the public interest and to the reputation of British Education standard nationally and internationally.

I believe that the allegations about plagiarism presented in this written evidence are very serious and warrants further considerations and investigation by IUSS Select Committee…

Submission from Professor MS El-Sayed