Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Krčál announced his resignation on Tuesday after facing accusations of plagiarism. He is the second minister to resign on these grounds in the course of just one week.
Even before Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ newly-appointed cabinet had assembled for its first session, two ministers dropped out on suspicion of plagiarism in their university theses. The former justice minister, Tatana Mala, attempted to weather the media storm for close to a fortnight before announcing her resignation, while the minister of labour and social affairs, Petr Krčál, announced his decision at a press briefing just hours after the news site Seznam.cz broke the story.
“I want to say that I worked hard on my bachelor’s thesis, although I admit there may have been irregularities in the work. Under normal circumstances, I would not consider this a problem that should threaten my position as minister, but in view of the current political situation and the difficulties that accompanied the forming of this cabinet, I am resigning from my post so as not to burden either the government or the Social Democratic Party.”
Jan Mach, an IT specialist at the Prague School of Economics, was asked to conduct a detailed analysis of minister Krčál’s thesis in order to confirm or rule out the suspicions voiced by Seznam that large parts of it had been copied from other works.
“The analysis I conducted revealed 40 pages of text that had been copied from other sources. This amounts to three quarters of the whole bachelor’s thesis.”
The incident has sparked a public debate on how widespread plagiarism is at universities and what they are doing to curb it. Jan Mach says that the works in question were written in the days before effective plagiarism controls were in place at universities.
“We do not come across such widespread and blatant cases of plagiarism often. Both these ministerial theses date back more than ten years ago when plagiarism was much harder to detect. Since 2006 most universities place students’ theses online and since 2008 we have a system Thesis.cz which can easily detect plagiarism. However schools are not bound by law to put theses online, merely to make them accessible to the public, for instance by keeping a copy in the university library. If all schools were bound to put theses online I think it would significantly reduce the problem of plagiarism.”
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has welcomed the speed with which the problem was resolved and said he would nominate Jana Maláčová, who heads of the ministry’s family policy department, to the post of labour minister. The prime minister who has spent eight months putting together a viable government appeared unfazed by the fact that two ministers have already had to be replaced, telling the media that their resignation had been the right decision and adding that he hoped that the rest of his cabinet had no reason to worry about their graduation theses.