21 Nov 2009

University defends handling of Ihimaera plagiarism

9:32 am on 21 November 2009

The University of Auckland is defending its handling of a plagiarism case involving writer and employee Witi Ihimaera, saying he has not been treated leniently.

Professor Ihimaera this week offered to buy back copies of his latest novel The Trowenna Sea after admitting that he used unacknowledged passages from other authors.

A new edition will be published next year and will include a full acknowledgment of the work used.

Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon wrote to staff on Friday and says much of the public comment on the matter has been ill-informed.

Mr McCutcheon says the university decided that the material had been inadvertently included in The Trowenna Sea, but that it was not sufficient to constitute misconduct and its inclusion does not warrant dismissal.

He says the university deplores all plagiarism and its approved process for addressing allegations of staff misconduct in research was followed scrupulously in this case.

In the late 1980s, Professor Ihimaera was involved in a similar incident with his novel The Matriarch.

More examples found, says critic

Jolisa Gracewood, the literary critic who discovered plagiarism in The Trowenna Sea says there are more examples of plagiarism in the book than have been acknowledged.

Ms Gracewood, who writes for the Listener, says since initially revealing 16 examples of plagiarism, she examined the book closer.

She says she found six apparent further incidents and believes the entire book should be rewritten.

"One is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography online. We also have a couple of examples in a guide book to Tasmania that was published in 1974; we have a section from Bullers Birds." (A History of the Birds of New Zealand )

Award questioned

Emeritus professor of history at Auckland University, Keith Sorenson, says Ihimaera apologised to him in 1986 for plagiarising his writing in the novel The Matriarch.

Professor Sorenson is questioning the appropriateness of an Arts Foundation Laureate award and a $50,000 prize given to Professor Ihimaera earlier this week.

"It's supposed to be an award for a body of work, and if you consider these two major historical novels which are both flawed, you've got to wonder why he should be getting such an award, " he told Nine to Noon.

Professor Sorenson says Auckland University has taken inadequate action and and seems to have two standards on plagiarism, one for students, and another for staff. He says the university's reputation is at stake.