Opinions Tue, 24 Oct 2006

Revocation Of Haruna's Degree; A Negative Precedent.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity of commenting on a canker that is eating deep into the fabric of Ghanaian universities; falling moral and ethical standards on our campuses. This time around it is not about students dragging the name of our institutions into disrepute, it is the people we expect to know better; the people our society banks its confidence in; it is the people our tax payers pay to educate their children (lecturers on our campuses).

The information we have is that the University of Ghana ( the premier university) has revoked the Master of Philosophy Degree awarded to Mr Haruna Iddrisu, Member of Parliament for Tamale Central, because of plagiarism. Plagiarism has been defined as the practice of dishonestly claiming original authorship of some material which one has indeed not created. In some circles especially among the academia this is a serious misdemeanour and the retributions for this are highhanded. The retributions may come in the form of academic suspension, expulsion from the institution of study, or as in the case of Haruna, a revocation of the degree so awarded. It is said that about 25 to 90% of students admit plagiarising.

Instances of plagiarism abound in the world and it is gratifying to note that the revocation of a degree is not a retribution visited only on Haruna. I have seen comments on Ghana web questioning why it has taken the university such a long time (2000 to 2006), to see the elements plagiarism in his work. In the celebrated case of Waliga v Board of Trustees (Ohio 1986), the BA Degree of Waliga was revoked after 17 years because of 28 discrepancies in the grades on the official transcript and the handwritten reports submitted by the instructors in Waliga's classes. The Ohio supreme court stated inter alia, “ We consider it self-evident that a college or university acting through its board of trustees does have the inherent authority to revoke an improperly awarded degree where (1) good cause such as fraud, deceit, or error is shown, and (2) the degree-holder is afforded a fair hearing at which he can present evidence and protect his interest. Academic degrees are a university's certification to the world at large of the recipient's educational achievement and fulfilment of the institution's standards. To hold that a university may never withdraw a degree, effectively requires the university to continue making a false certification to the public at large of the accomplishment of persons who in fact lack the very qualifications that are certified. Such a holding would undermine public confidence in the integrity of degrees, call academic standards into question, and harm those who rely on the certification which the degree represents.” (http://www.rbs2.com/plag.htm#anchor777777).

Two fundamental principles are stated in this case. The first is that a degree can only be revoked if and only if it can be established that the student has indeed indulged in some form of malfeasance, fraud, deceit or error. In the case of Haruna Iddirisu, it APPEARS that the university authorities have substantial grounds to argue that Haruna has indeed indulged in some form of academic theft or dishonesty. I said it APPEARS because the authenticity of the university’s claim has not yet been established. Haruna , in an interview he granted to the DAILY EXPRESS, has repudiated that claim stating that he has indeed acknowledged his sources. IF it is true that Haruna’s sources were not acknowledged, the university may therefore be exonerated on those grounds for visiting such a high-handed retribution to this up-and-coming great politician of our time.

The second doctrine in this ruling is that the university authorities, in trying not to make false certification to the public, may revoke a degree if the degree holder is afforded a fair hearing at which he can present evidence and protect his interest. This is where the bone of contention is. According to a DAILY EXPRESS report published on Ghana web, some media houses had had the confirmed decision of the university even before the Member of Parliament was informed. To add some piquancy to the assertion that there was an apparent orchestration to assassinate the character and integrity of the young man thereby crippling his political ambitions, Ghanaian Times made a publication by a former university registrar (Ebow Daniel) claiming that “… it reads in parts like those earlier studies, and there is no acknowledgement.” The Member of Parliament retorted by saying that he had indeed acknowledged his sources. So whose word do we take?

If the authorities are indeed up to their task, they would have “afforded a fair hearing (to Haruna) at which he can present evidence and protect his interest”. The failure of the authorities to do this is perhaps the reason why some pundits are reading politics into the decision of the authorities of the university. And IF indeed the decision of the university has any political undertones, then it is regrettable. As the citadel of learning, a lot is expected from our universities in that this is where our doctors, accountants, lawyers, planners, architects and what have you are trained. So if by our own acts of omission or commission, we give the outside community the slightest indication that our decisions and actions are politically motivated, society will not accord us the veneration we would normally enjoy. And that is the path we are treading at the moment. From what we know, accusations of plagiarism are attracted by a perceived hubris on the part of the target. According to Aristotle, hubris “consists in doing or saying things that cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your gratification”. From the look of things, that is exactly what is happening to Haruna.

We all know that Haruna is an outspoken individual even during his school days. For some of us he is a role model. Those who know Haruna well will admit that in most of his deliberations, he has always quoted, and when he did, he will actually mention the name of the authority he is quoting . I remember those days when he used to come on GTV’s Talking Point, he will quote from left, right and centre and when he did, he always acknowledged his source and the authority. So the argument is that, if in conversations (even with the limited time), he gets the energy to acknowledge his sources, I find this accusation against him rather scurrilous.

I do not want to believe that the decision is politically-motivated ( as has been suggested in some circles). But if indeed it is, then the authorities in that university must bow down their heads in shame. It only makes manifest the calibre of lecturers we have in our universities. Let us not forget that this thesis was adjudged one of the best for the department. So what we are hearing will set a negative precedent which is reminiscent of the Ghanaian people (the pull-him-down attitude). We have (as a nation), either wittingly or unwittingly created a society so rife with jealousy that we have no heroes. It is out of jealousy and hatred that we speak ill of Kwame Nkrumah and yet wherever you go and say that you are a Ghanaian, the next you hear is “Kwame Nkrumah“. Infact the name Kwame Nkrumah has become synonymous with Ghana that sometimes one is tempted to say “Kwame Nkrumah” when one is asked where he is from. And yet that is a man we chased into exile making him die an undignified death; that was a man whose effigy we tried in vain to completely remove from the surface of the earth.

It is out of jealousy and hatred that we speak ill of some of our footballers and yet these are people who bring glory to our nation as exemplified in the pride that our footballers brought to us during the world cup competition. And yet these are people that we go on our radios to castigate for no apparent reason. A time is coming when Ghanaians have to learn that man cannot put asunder what God has put together. Rawlings may have been buying food on credit, but ones God has elevated him to the position of a president of a nation, it will be unwise for anyone to refuse to acknowledge that transformation by virtue of the fact that he had a terrible past. Samuel Osei Kuffuor or any of the players we have, may have some humble beginnings at the early stages of their lives, but once God has elevated them to the position they are now, it will be unwise for anyone not to acknowledge the transformation. Until we begin seeing things that way, we will continue to be a nation of parochial-minded individuals.

As for Haruna, all I have to say is that if the intention of the perpetrators of this dastardly act is to silence you, then prove them wrong by standing by those ideals you have always stood by. After all other great people like Shakespeare, Martin Luther Jnr and (quite recently) Dan Brown were accused of plagiarism. Infact Martin Luther King was said to have plagiarized portions of his Doctoral Thesis that summarizes the concepts of God expressed by Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. Even his speech “I Have A Dream” was said to have been plagiarised from an address by Archibald Carey to the Republican National Convention in 1952. And yet that speech stands as one of the greatest speeches within living memories.

It may be a great achievement to have a Degree, A Masters, or a PhD but the truth is that you do not necessarily need these in life to make an impact in your particular choice of human endeavour. Bill Gates hasn’t got a masters and yet he is one of the most successful people in the world; and if Bill Gates is not a good example, then Oprah Winfrey certainly is. So let Haruna go out there and prove to his detractors that he will not be bogged down by the ill-perceived objectives of the university.

God Bless The Gold Coast!!!

Yakubu Adams Sheriff

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Yakubu, Adams Sheriff