Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Another day, and I am still angry about how my University has dealt with Witi Ihimaera. You will recall that the estimable Jolisa Gracewood discovered that Professor Ihimaera's latest work contains some passages that belong to other authors. When the Listener brought this matter to the Professor's attention, this is what happened:
His response comes swiftly. He is apologetic to all parties. During an ensuing interview with him and Geoff Walker, publishing director of Penguin New Zealand, under whose Raupo imprint The Trowenna Sea was released, Ihimaera says he is “horrified” about his “errors”.
An open and shut case, one would have thought: the Professor was caught, bang to rights. And to his credit, he admitted that it was a fair cop (Guv). Yet the University wallows in the fiction section, feigning concern and saying assurances have been made; in short, talking bollocks.

It is not that I dislike Witi Ihimaera. I think him a great writer, and he seems to be a nice chap. I have a little list of authors I would like to see disgraced, but he is not on it. It is a great shame that he did it, but creditable that he owned up. Unfortunately, the University of which both he and I are members seems to think the matter is nothing but an embarrassment, so it pretends nothing is amiss.

I could go on and on about this, referencing the unfortunate Bruce Logan and that ghastly turd Greg Fleming, but you would have heard it all before. Instead, I wrote to the Dean of Arts, Associate Professor Jan Crosthwaite, in the following terms
Dear Professor,

I write as a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History. I would like you to know how deeply disappointed I feel about the Faculty's decision to take no action about the plagiarism committed by Professor Witi Ihimaera. The facts of the matter are clear: he committed plagiarism by using the words of other writers without acknowledgment. He has admitted that he committed plagiarism. Yet the Faculty can find no fault and calls the Professor's plagiarism an "oversight." I very much doubt that a student would be treated so leniently.

The Faculty, and thus the University, has shown itself to have no moral integrity in this matter. We are told constantly that plagiarism is a serious matter, yet when a member of the academic staff is found to have committed it, the University pretends that nothing is wrong. Frankly, I am ashamed to be a member of this University.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Litterick


Deborah said...

I'm pretty unimpressed by the whole thing too. I'm looking forward to reading (an official copy of) the article when my partner gets home from NZ tomorrow - he's promised to bring me a copy of The Listener.

You'll blog the reply, if any?

Paul said...

That I will.

This is not the first time in recent months that the Listener has run a cover story about something that matters. Perhaps its dark days of suburban self-obsession are over.

Paul said...

BTW, according to Internet Explorer (not my choice or my computer) your cat is an Unsecure Item.

Peter in Dundee said...

Actually Paul I'm with the university on this one. For this reason: the book is nothing to do with the university or his position in it. It is not a scholarly work. The university did not publish it. He is not on the cover as Professor Witi Ihimaera.

So if the university were to sanction him for it, it would be up in court for breach of procedure faster than you can blog.

His job iow is not to write fiction, therefore his employer cannot sanction him for it. This is a matter for him and his publisher and the publishers of the authors plagiarised.

I fear that your letter has betrayed your naivety in this and if you get a reply it will be along these lines.

the ancient mariner said...

Professor Ihimaera's job is in fact to write - and teach others to write - fiction. All his novels count towards his research output at Auckland University, and so contribute revenue to the university through the PBRF system.

Cactus Kate said...


Nonsense. It all goes directly to his credibility as a lecturer.

What happens when a student presents a work with such an act in it?

Teachers have to set examples to students. Ordianry schoolteachers can be disciplined for acts outside of school hours that impinge on their ability to be rolemodels to students.

Witi's standard is even higher as University is meant to teach these principles of thou shall not copy.

tony said...

A guy goes into Unity Books and says: "Can I have a copy of Witi's latest novel signed by all the authors, please?"

Richard said...

@Peter in Dundee

I don't think this is germane. Ihimaera himself appears to have asked for Auckland for a determination as to whether this constitutes plagiarism -- and Auckland accepted jurisdiction. Consequently, both parties do agree that the universities procedures are applicable.

I must admit I am horrified at how cursory the examination was, when it is increasingly clear that the examples the university could have seen are not the full extent of the copying.

Anonymous said...

This constitutes a free pass for any student accused of plagiarism at the University of Auckland. Disgraceful.

Arlyn said...

I'm mad... I feel like the guy is wiping his arse with my arts degree (which naturally borrows much from the credibility of the institution from which it's obtained).

AU is being incredibly disingenuous - this isn't a case of an academic essay borrowing from the conclusions of another's research without attribution (no biggie, really - it'll just not be taken seriously), it is a case of a prose writer blatantly copying the work of others - there is no greater ethical breach for a fictioneer. (when caught he seemed to justify himself by saying he didn't take enough time to "re-paraphrase"... imagine a student trying that one on...)

If you are still 'in' at Uni, please take it as far as you can - do it for those who haven't the time (flipping burgers, or whatever else an arts degree will get you these days).