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October 23, 2021

The row of fake diplomas

Are political rows bad omen? Certainly, but with some exceptions, as the ongoing row over plagiarized diplomas. It brings to the spotlight an old serious issue of the Romanian education system and of our legislation, which its deficit of cohesion and of organic character. It is precisely this fundamental deficit that cultivates a paradox in our country: everybody, starting with our rulers, permanently invokes and evokes the power of the law. But this power of the law only seldom seems to be taken into consideration, because of the lack of legislative cohesion. We have some legal provisions that contradict and negate each other, so two absolutely identical lawsuits may end with fundamentally different court verdicts, only because two judges resorted to different legal provisions. Four acting university professors, rectors and members of the Parliament have been recently accused of being in the same type of incompatibility.

In court, two won and two lost the trials. The monitoring of the Romanian justice system by the EU was decided precisely because of such contradictory situations.This legal paradox aggravates the seriousness of this kind of rows, like that of fake diplomas. For several years, the internet is full of offers made by those willing to forge university diplomas at a price. Many higher education graduates resort to these offers without any reticence, and there is no reaction from the academic world. Faced with all kind of contradiction, many caused by political interferences universities are reluctant to take any measure against this phenomenon, in an attempt to avoid negative reactions coming from the political world. This is how it was possible to reach the present situation, when even the doctoral theses can be written by collaborators of the Ph.D. aspirant, rather than by the student himself. Even worse, these collaborators can plagiarise “because this is what everybody does.” A former minister, very present in the media, recently offered a clear insight into the major, but surprising contributions of her collaborators in writing her doctoral thesis.The lack of measures against intellectual theft is blamed on another real and sad paradox: the frequent and contradictory changes of Education ministers. Each new Cabinet that is set in place brings a different minister of Education, chosen because of his political affiliation, hence the adversity for his predecessor. As each new minister wants to be a prominent “reformer” of Education, instead of answering to the objective demands derived from the national interest he takes measures aimed at thwarting the decisions made by the previous minister – who is also his political opponent. These apparent reforms, which in fact contradict each other in an incessant succession, pushed every university structure to seek its own statute, which stipulates only rights and no substantial obligation, thus negating the idea of exigency and self-exigency.This paradoxical turmoil allowed the founding of universities whose main goal is to make financial profit, by charging education fees from students and by granting them diplomas that do not reflect the real level of education, and also by keeping material and spiritual investments at a minimum. The educational activities of these “universities” often stay at a petty expositive level, without analytical interdisciplinary spirit, without scientific debates or substantial bibliographic sources and – of late – without imbuing university studies with the attribute of prelude and initiation, in a lifetime effort dedicated to knowledge. It is no wonder that, sometimes, such “university studies” are so low that they remind of characters from Ion Creanga’s stories.This decline of the quality of our higher education system is also explained through three other complementary factors. The first includes the disproportion between the number of new Baccalaureate graduates and the places available in faculties. While the number of Baccalaureate graduates drops each year, that of places in faculties increases each year. The competition between faculties is so fierce that they even abandoned the admission contest. Each institution of higher education is tempted to lower its exigency and self-exigency in order to have a higher number of paying students which, eventually, receive graduation diplomas in specialties that are seldom authorised or accredited. A particular attention should be granted to “distance education” – often seen only as a source of financial profit, which completely negates the complementary report between university exigency and self-exigency.The third factor that contributed to the decline of the quality of Romanian higher education is the devaluation of the concept of university autonomy, which is justified by the right to creation, to producing new authentic values, as a fundamental right opposed to anarchy. These attributes make autonomy the fundamental notion of Kant’s morale: a person should self-impose laws that express, elevate and consecrate the respective person, rather than a decadent negation. In our case, the autonomy of universities seldom goes beyond negation, contestation, the split-up from a complementary and stimulatory system. We should not forget that the modern world demands precisely the complementariness of efforts, along with solidarity in creation, which opposes to any kind of ruptures. Unfortunately, in today’s Romania the autonomy of universities – and any other kind of autonomy – often contradicts the strategic national interest, thus taking a noxious character.Thus we come to the third factor of the degradation of higher education, i.e. the rearrangement of the university pyramid upside down. It would be normal that a title of university professor is preceded by the titles of docent, lecturer and university assistant, who should outnumber professors. Only such a natural pyramid of values can stimulate creation, as a continuous process. In our country, however, erroneous university autonomy made possible the existence of many more professors than assistants, a situation that blocks the access of young and eminent graduates to the position of university assistant, forcing them to emigrate in high numbers. The quasi-general increase of the number of professors, most often through political interference at university level, led to a sharp decline of value-based criteria. Thus, less and less Romanian universities make it to the top of most prestigious universities in Europe and at global scale.Although terrible through its frequency and seriousness, the row of fake, plagiarised university diplomas also has this resurrection side: it wakes us to reality.

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