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On 1 June 2019, the UvA’s Executive Board established an external committee for Academic Integrity to investigate possible violations of academic integrity in the speeches and dissertation of former Rector Dymph van den Boom. The committee, led by Prof. Ton Hol, a professor at Utrecht University, delivered its report on 16 December 2019.

The committee concluded that there was a pattern of inadequate citation of sources and carelessness in referencing the ideas of others. This could and should have avoided, but in the case at hand there was no violation of academic integrity standards nor of plagiarism in particular.

Context

According to the committee, plagiarism is about ‘taking credit for another’s work’  and the context is relevant: in the dissertation the issues stated above were found in a chapter on consulted literature. In addition, the dissertation was published around 30 years ago. The annual Dies speeches are not academic publications but speeches. At the same time, the committee writes that ‘a director may nevertheless be expected to set a good example when the written text of the speeches is made publicly available’ and that ‘in the written version this indebtedness must be made visible through clear references. All this is just a matter of decency; written rules are not necessary for this.’ The Rector Magnificus is established as ‘the most important academic director of the university’.

Provisional decision

The Board is adopting this inclusion in a so-called provisional decision. Based on the report, the Executive Board has decided to remove the speeches from the UvA website and has asked former Rector Dymph van den Boom to add the missing references and quotation marks to the speeches so that they can be published online in a new version. Dymph van den Boom can request a second opinion from the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI) within six weeks. After that the Board will make a final decision.

Act with care and responsibility

Following the report of the external committee, the Board received various questions and comments, in particular about the application of the above regulations in relation to the opinion of the Committee. The Board will soon discuss the concerns expressed, including with the chairs of the Examination Boards and other stakeholders.

The Board emphasises that it attaches great importance to the general principles of professional academic conduct. Employees and students at the UvA are free in their education and research, in their choice of topics and research methods, in how they inform themselves, publicise and publish their work. At the same time, they have a duty to justify the choices they make and to conduct research with integrity, which is to say in a reliable, honest, careful and responsible manner.

The UvA has clear guidelines for this: Regulations Governing Fraud and Plagiarism for UvA Students. The first part of the regulations describes what is meant by plagiarism: ‘making use of or reproducing another person’s texts, data or ideas to a significant degree without acknowledgement of sources’, which is further clarified by ‘failing to clearly indicate in the text – for instance by means of quotation marks or a particular layout – that literal or near-literal quotations have been included in the work’ . These regulations remain fully in force.