Paper Tiger

One New Jersey college, Hackettstown’s Centenary College, maintained MBA programs in Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan. Earlier this month Centenary announced it was shutting down the whole enterprise, because a “review revealed evidence of widespread plagiarism among other issues, at a level that ordinarily would have resulted in students’ immediate dismissal from the college,” according to the school.

The Centenary example highlights something very interesting about the proliferation of international academia. Despite the fact that some higher education officials eagerly welcome the contributions of new foreign academics, it turns out intellectual fraud is actually very common among rising economic powers. As one recent article in The Economist put it:

[Achieving major] discoveries, inventions and other advances… will be hard [for the People’s Republic of China], not least because of the country’s well-earned reputation for pervasive academic and scientific misconduct. Scholars, both Chinese and Western, say that fraud remains rampant and misconduct ranges from falsified data to fibs about degrees, cheating on tests and extensive plagiarism.

Such lapses of integrity are not unique to China, but poor peer-review mechanisms, misguided incentives and a lack of checks on academic behaviour all allow fraud to be more common. China may be susceptible… because academics expect to advance according to the number, not the quality, of their published works. Thus reward can come without academic rigour. Nor do senior scientists, who are rarely punished for fraud, set a decent example to their juniors.

Not that the United States is any stranger to academic dishonesty, but the case of China seems particularly extreme. China has a transparent aspiration to become a scientifically advanced economic powerhouse. Perhaps sometimes it looks like the quickest way to get there is just to fake it.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer