Saturday, November 21, 2009


I am communicating directly with staff and students on the matter concerning Professor Witi Ihimaera which has received considerable media publicity. Much of the public comment has been ill-informed and made in ignorance of the facts. This is notwithstanding our explanations to the media of how this matter was handled and the procedures involved.

On 3 November, Professor Ihimaera alerted the University to claims of plagiarism against him which were being investigated by the Listener. In accordance with the University’s “Guidelines for the Conduct of Research (Part 2, Procedures for Dealing with Concerns of Misconduct in Research)” his Head of Department, Professor Tom Bishop, then conducted a preliminary assessment of the allegations. This found that a small amount of material in Professor Ihimaera's novel, The Trowenna Sea, had been published without attribution or acknowledgement. On the basis of his review of the material of concern and Professor Ihimaera’s response, Professor Bishop concluded that the material had been inadvertently included in the novel without proper acknowledgement and that the instances were not sufficient to constitute misconduct as defined in these Procedures.

Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable and Professor Ihimaera has publicly acknowledged that he erred in using unattributed passages as he did. He has repeatedly apologised in public and is taking appropriate steps to remedy his error. The book has been withdrawn from sale at considerable financial cost to Professor Ihimaera. This will enable him to undertake a review of the text and to check it against the sources upon which he drew. The review will determine the acknowledgements and referencing to be included in a future edition of the book.

There have been claims in the media that Professor Ihimaera has been treated leniently and that a severe sanction, including dismissal, should have been imposed. It is also being said that different standards would have applied to a student in the same position. These claims are patently untrue. Students and staff are subject to essentially the same policies and procedures in cases of alleged plagiarism. The University does not condone plagiarism, but recognises the need to take into account a range of factors such as intention, seriousness and extent. Were a small amount of unattributed material to be discovered in a doctoral thesis, for example, the student would be required to rewrite the thesis with appropriate attribution — precisely the action Professor Ihimaera will be taking of his own volition.

The University deplores plagiarism in any form and has robust processes for dealing with allegations of academic misconduct by either staff or students. The University’s approved process for addressing allegations of staff misconduct in research was followed scrupulously in this case. To do otherwise would be to breach Professor Ihimaera’s rights as an employee of the University.

Stuart N. McCutcheon

Link here to NZH report on the Vice-Chancellor's letter.


Unknown said...

Am I wrong to place a 'difference in gravity' between plagiarising another author's fictional work (very very bad, deserving of loss of reputation) and an academic work (bad, but can be rectified by sufficient footnoting, and not worth losing a reputation over)? I assume the plagiarising in this instance was to ensure historical accuracy of the literary text.

Seems to be a lot of politicking involved, from Paul Holmes point of view specifically against earlier politicking by Ihimaera himself, and it is on that level I think there has been an injustice via a double institutional standard, as pointed out well in the below blog post by Cactus Kate, citing sacked Auckland University lecturer Paul Buchanan:

Bookseller said...

Sturat McCutcheon from Auckland University says in your post;
"The book has been withdrawn from sale at considerable financial cost to Professor Ihimaera."

This is totally incorrect.
Witi Ihimaera has made no attempt to purchase the book back from my shop.
We have 20 copies currently in stock.
Penguin have made no contact with us instructucting us to withdraw the book from sale.
I have read news reports in which Geoff Walker has said we can return the book to Penguin but we can do this with any Sale or Return title as long as we pay the freight costs.
What is being said appears to me like so much smoke and mirrors.
If The Trowenna Sea is being withdrawn from sale Penguin Books should be contacting all booksellers and instructing them to return it to them and that they will be paying the freight costs.
This is standard practice if a book is withdrawn from sale and in my 15 years in the retail booktrade it has happened a number of times mainly for legal reasons.
Perhaps it is time for Penguin Books and Witi Ihimaera to state for the record what is really happening with copies of the Trowenna Sea that are on sale in bookshops throughout New Zealand.

r. said...

The V-C is missing the point. The issue with the university's role is not that Ihimaera was "let off" when others might be punished more harshly for the same offense. Rather the issue is that initial investigation was cursory, and did not ask whether the set of correspondences found by the Listener amounted to the full extent of the copying in the book.

A moment's reflection would suggest that if a book has been found to contain 16 instances of plagiarism, it is not unreasonable to suspect that it contains more -- and that this question could only be settled by a careful reading of the book (and perhaps an examination of the draft manuscript(s) and notes).

Subsequent events have made it clear that additional examples do exist, and that no-one (probably not even Ihimaera himself) can accurately describe the full extent of the copying.

By effectively exonerating Ihimaera so quickly, and by failing to conduct a diligent investigation, Auckland laid itself open to precisely the sort of criticism it is now receiving -- and, in an ideal world, the university would revisit the question of both the extent of the plagiarism, and the credibility of the initial investigation.

Jennifer Eddington said...

"Plagiarism constitutes academic dishonesty and is both prosecuted and punished at every credible institution in the world. At Colorado State University, failure to do your own work in COCC150, or any other course for that matter—or to plagiarize in any way—is a failure to meet course requirements and is a violation of long established CSU policy regarding Academic Integrity."
Colorado State University Writing Guide for Students.

Mr Ihimaera is a Professor of English and a Fellow of Maori Literature at Auckland University
as well as a novelist. I would have hoped that Auckland University had similar views on student behaviour towards Academic integrity as does Colorado State. How can they possibly condone such behaviour - deliberate or not- from a highly respected member of their teaching staff?

The excuse from his publisher that "Ihimaera is at the forefront of New Zealand fiction writing" and "... brought I think te ao Maori to a Pakeha readership to a considerable degree" only magnifies the situation.

Plagiarism is theft - appropriation of another persons written work deliberately or not.. A very damning and sad statement to be made about an author who "is at the forefront of New Zealand fiction writing"