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Message from the Vice-Chancellor

I am communicating directly with staff and students on the matter concerning Professor Witi Ihimaera which has received considerable media publicity. Much of the public comment has been ill-informed and made in ignorance of the facts. This is notwithstanding our explanations to the media of how this matter was handled and the procedures involved.

On 3 November, Professor Ihimaera alerted the University to claims of plagiarism against him which were being investigated by the Listener. In accordance with the University’s “Guidelines for the Conduct of Research (Part 2, Procedures for Dealing with Concerns of Misconduct in Research)” his Head of Department, Professor Tom Bishop, then conducted a preliminary assessment of the allegations. This found that a small amount of material in Professor Ihimaera's novel, The Trowenna Sea, had been published without attribution or acknowledgement. On the basis of his review of the material of concern and Professor Ihimaera’s response, Professor Bishop concluded that the material had been inadvertently included in the novel without proper acknowledgement and that the instances were not sufficient to constitute misconduct as defined in these Procedures.

Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable and Professor Ihimaera has publicly acknowledged that he erred in using unattributed passages as he did. He has repeatedly apologised in public and is taking appropriate steps to remedy his error. The book has been withdrawn from sale at considerable financial cost to Professor Ihimaera. This will enable him to undertake a review of the text and to check it against the sources upon which he drew. The review will determine the acknowledgements and referencing to be included in a future edition of the book.

There have been claims in the media that Professor Ihimaera has been treated leniently and that a severe sanction, including dismissal, should have been imposed. It is also being said that different standards would have applied to a student in the same position. These claims are patently untrue. Students and staff are subject to essentially the same policies and procedures in cases of alleged plagiarism. The University does not condone plagiarism, but recognises the need to take into account a range of factors such as intention, seriousness and extent. Were a small amount of unattributed material to be discovered in a doctoral thesis, for example, the student would be required to rewrite the thesis with appropriate attribution — precisely the action Professor Ihimaera will be taking of his own volition.

The University deplores plagiarism in any form and has robust processes for dealing with allegations of academic misconduct by either staff or students. The University’s approved process for addressing allegations of staff misconduct in research was followed scrupulously in this case. To do otherwise would be to breach Professor Ihimaera’s rights as an employee of the University.

Stuart N. McCutcheon
Vice-Chancellor