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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Plagiarised Ph Ds? I guess there are lots of them

In 1968, the UK government awarded me a Major State Studentship to study for a doctorate at Nuffield College, Oxford. Fourteen years (two of them on the Studentship), four universities and five supervisors later, the University of Sussex awarded me a doctorate for my work Language as an Object of Social Theory. In 1987, a revised etc. half of it was published by Oxford University Press as Language in Mind and Language in Society.

None of it was plagiarised. As a Scholarship Boy, it did not occur to me as an option. I gave many, many hours of the best years of my life to writing the fucking thing. Little good did it do me.

If you are the son of Gaddafi or a German aristocrat, perhaps you just assume you are entitled to what you want, and by the easiest route.

I supervised Ph. D students who thought a bit like that. I remember one Busy and Important man who submitted badly-written drafts. I asked him how he wrote them. He told me he dictated to his secretary in between meetings. What are you supposed to say in response to that? Maybe it was OK for Bertrand Russell but you ain't Bertrand Russell?

Part of my disillusionment with university life - about which I still find it hard to write but which led me to quit at the earliest opportunity, aged 50 - arose from my feeling that there were students getting MAs and even Ph Ds who could not really think their way out of a paper bag and that quite a few of my colleagues were in the same predicament.

When universities and polytechnics expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, there were jobs for anyone who had confidence to apply. That included sons and daughters of the upper middle classes who had scraped Thirds or even Pass degrees but who felt somehow entitled to the comforts of an academic post. The Church was no longer really an option.

Many of them never published anything or, if they did, you can read it and immediately sense that it is bland and derivative or worse. By now, all of them are comfortably retired. Their universities seem to me still burdened with the legacy of their mediocrity.

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