Society

Academic Misconduct, The Chinese Way

The intricate connection between state power and academic authority is fertile ground for corruption in research and education. Here is one recipe to clean up the campus in China.

Nanjing University's campus
Zheng Ge

The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) has released a bulletin disclosing a recent batch of typical academic misconduct cases in China. It was discovered last month, for example, that Yuan Zhenguo, President of National Institute of Education Sciences, had examined and approved his own as well his family members' research projects. This is the inevitable result of the insular circles of China's education and scientific research community, which has long been interfered with by administrative power.

Academic misconduct is a critical issue facing every country in the world. Nature, the prominent British journal, suggested in a 2008 article that in order to restore scientific research integrity, a "zero tolerance" policy for misconduct must be applied and a code of ethics implemented where whistleblowers are encouraged and protected.

These recommendations put scientists' and researchers' dignity and self-reliance first. They did not introduce any external party — especially political — or additional administrative supervision. This is entirely consistent with the long-established academic autonomy of Western society.

As the great 17th century German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said: "Those with more power will sin more; there is no theorem in geometry more certain than this." The inevitable association between power and evil must therefore be the very premise with which a modern country designs its democracy and the rule of law: Any power must be limited and supervised, and such restrictions must be beyond the control of those who exercise power.

Autonomous academic communities and other professional communities can help set boundaries to political power. On the one hand in China, political power itself refuses such differentiation, so a separation of powers and checks and balances between governmental branches cannot be established. On the other hand, all aspects of society are entirely under the control of the political powers, including academic resources and allocations for research funding.

This political reality leads to academic misconduct with Chinese characteristics.

First, it's difficult to differentiate the allocator, applicant and user of scientific project funding. The phenomenon where a referee is also a player is not uncommon in China. Yuan Zhenguo is just one recent case.

Student roots

To prevent academic misconduct, conflicts of interests must first be avoided. In the scientific research field there exist interest relations between funder and researchers, researchers and users of research results, and even between the public and private roles of the researchers. All these interests must be clarified and separated. The interference of the administrative power for education and scientific research as well as the lack of effective supervision of these powers have hampered the rules for preventing conflicts of interest in China's academic sphere.

In addition, in organizational psychology there is a basic principle: People are more inclined to obey rules they helped establish, rather than those imposed on them. All stakeholders — including teachers, students and educational administrators — should be involved in the formulation of the rules related to academic integrity.

However, in China, education and research institutions are attached to the "administrative authorities," so that an academic community cannot be developed — let alone its autonomy and self-regulatory mechanisms. Were an academic community to exist, the members of this community would understand that any misconduct damages the entire community's reputation, so it would be every member's moral duty and in their own self-interest to denounce any known misconduct. Loosening rather than strengthening government control is the prerequisite for forming the self-discipline of an academic community.

Moreover, we must remember that teachers and researchers were once students. The cultivation of ethics at the student level determines the future of the entire academic ethical environment. Struck from both sides by administrative power and by market forces, Chinese universities do not possess enough autonomous strength to create stringent ethical standards on campus.

University teachers and researchers are not necessarily better or worse than ordinary workers when it comes to moral standards. But they are generally more rational, and more capable of attaining advantages that are in their interest. A large number of studies have shown that environmental factors account for more than individual differences in determining researchers' ethical choices. Specifically speaking, rather than abstract rules and moralizing, it is the example of seeing one's peers obtain honor for their integrity or be punished for ethical shortcomings that will play the decisive role in scholars' personal choices.

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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