Alumnus spurns PhD over plagiarism row

Former student 'disgusted' at Leeds' decision not to uphold allegations. Paul Jump writes

September 27, 2012

A former University of Leeds doctoral student is seeking to "renounce" his degree after the institution decided not to uphold a charge of plagiarism against his former supervisor.

Vijay Parmar completed his PhD in mathematics at Leeds in 1991 under the supervision of John Wood, who is now professor of pure mathematics at the institution.

Dr Parmar told Times Higher Education that he had lost interest in publishing his ideas after taking up a career in investment banking.

However, in May 2011 he became aware of a paper published in 2009 in the Bulletin Mathématique which, in his estimation, took its main concept and notation from his thesis without acknowledgement.

The paper was co-authored by Professor Wood and Paul Baird, who was a research fellow at Leeds while Dr Parmar was there and is now professor of mathematics at the University of Bretagne Occidentale.

In an email to Dr Parmar, Professor Wood acknowledged some "overlap" between the paper and his thesis and apologised for not citing it. But he denied consciously using Dr Parmar's ideas, adding that "the problem is that most theses are not readily available, so that it is not usual to cite them in papers".

Dr Parmar dismissed the explanation and asked Leeds and Bretagne to conduct plagiarism inquiries.

Leeds' screening panel concluded in March 2012 that an apology should be issued and an addendum be added to the disputed article acknowledging the priority of Dr Parmar's thesis. It denied that Professor Wood's assertion about the acknowledgement of theses was "a fair representation of good academic practice".

But it agreed with the verdict of its expert adviser, Robert Bryant, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, that, given the lapse of time, it was "believable" that the paper's authors "might not have consciously remembered (Dr Parmar's) work but were still influenced by it".

Dr Parmar noted in his appeal that professors Wood and Baird had cited his thesis in a 2003 book. In his official response, David Hogg, pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Leeds, accepted this made it "a little less likely" that they had forgotten the thesis by 2009, but said their explanation remained "credible".

Dr Parmar was "disgusted" with this verdict and has asked to "resign" both his PhD and a prior BSc. The university said there was no procedure for doing so but that he could be removed from its list of alumni.

A Leeds spokeswoman said the allegation had "been handled fully and fairly, in accordance with university procedures". She said the addendum had already been published and that, since the rejection of his appeal, Dr Parmar had "refused the opportunity to meet with university representatives to discuss his concerns".

Dr Parmar dismissed the addendum, saying its wording implied his thesis was "just one of many insignificant references - not the central idea underpinning the paper". He said he was contemplating legal action if the paper was not retracted.

Bretagne Occidentale's president, Pascal Olivard, wrote to Dr Parmar last July saying only that an "impartial" committee had concluded that his allegations were "devoid of any foundation". Dr Parmar described the brief letter as "pathetic". A spokeswoman for Bretagne told THE that it had nothing to add.

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