Serial plagiarist forced to quit

July 19, 2002

By the time Monash University vice-chancellor David Robinson stepped off the plane at Heathrow on July 10 on his way to the official opening of a Monash centre at King's College London, the university's governing council had decided that he would be recalled to Melbourne and told he had to step down.

Instead of officiating at the launch of another of Monash's overseas branches, Professor Robinson caught the next plane back to Australia.

Back in Melbourne, he met university chancellor Jerry Ellis and, after an hour-long discussion, agreed to quit his A$500,000-a-year (£180,000) post. Both men accepted that further publicity surrounding instances of plagiarism by the vice-chancellor could only add to the damage.

Mr Ellis told a press conference that Professor Robinson had taken the "high-principled ground" and had agreed to step down. The chancellor later confirmed that other cases of plagiarism had been uncovered, and he intimated that this was why he had decided to act.

"The vice-chancellor and I reached agreement that he should go," Mr Ellis said. "That was on the basis that it was in the best interests of Monash. It is sad but the university's best interests must come first."

The THES reported last month that while working in England, Professor Robinson had copied text without appropriate attribution from other authors in books that he had published in 1979 and 1983. In the former case, the British Journal of Addiction later published a statement in which Professor Robinson acknowledged that four pages "relied" on an earlier paper. In the latter case, he publicly offered his unreserved apologies for the "serious violation of scholarly standards".

The university council backed the vice-chancellor, and Professor Robinson would have kept his job. However, a Monash academic later discovered he had borrowed heavily from other writers for a book published in 1976. Professor Robinson admitted that he had not adequately acknowledged the work, but he said the mistake was inadvertent and the result of pressure to publish.

Professor Robinson, a former pro vice-chancellor at the University of Hull and an authority on drug addiction, became head of the University of South Australia in 1992. He was appointed Monash vice-chancellor in 1997.

Mr Ellis said the council had been unaware of Professor Robinson's "indiscretions" in Britain and had received glowing reports from referees at South Australia and Hull. He said council members had decided to review the selection procedures, but he pointed out that it was unlikely that future applicants for the vice-chancellor's post would be asked if they were plagiarists.

Mr Ellis said it would be naive to think Monash did not have "a dent in its reputation". But he added: "It's full of fine academics, fine staff, fine students. That doesn't evaporate because of one event. Those of us left behind - all of us bar one - will be working our level best to make sure any damage that has been caused is corrected."

In a statement last week, Professor Robinson said that he was disappointed to be leaving Monash at such an exciting time in its development. But he was confident the deans would continue with the "enormous progress we have already made together".

Robinson leaves with payout

Professor Robinson had four years of a second five-year contract remaining and might, under other circumstances, have expected to take away almost A$2 million (£715,000) with him. Chancellor Jerry Ellis could not give the final payout but said there would be no penalties.

University council members agonised over the decision with some arguing that in nearly six years at Monash, Professor Robinson had lifted the university's profile and expanded its operations in Australia. He also established campuses in Malaysia and South Africa, and study centres in London and Prato, in Italy.

When he took over in 1997, Monash operated on a budget of A$576 million and had six campuses around Melbourne enrolling 42,000 students, including 6,500 from overseas. This year, the university has eight campuses, an enrolment of 47,000 students, including 12,000 foreigners, and a turnover of A$710 million.

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