An Investigative Journalist Prevents Former Minister, Liviu Pop, from receiving the title of "Doctor in Philosophy"

An Investigative Journalist Prevents Former Minister, Liviu Pop, from receiving the title of “Doctor in Philosophy”

/ April 5, 2019
Liviu Pop was the Minister of Education in the Tudose Government. Photo: Lucian Muntean
Liviu Pop was the Minister of Education in the Tudose Government. Photo: Lucian Muntean

“Doctoral candidate, esteemed guests, distinguished members of the panel, please allow me to inform you of the unanimous decision that was taken by the commission I am chairing today.

Since there is an incidence of possible suspicions related to plagiarism or borrowed ideas embedded within the doctoral dissertation of the respective doctoral candidate, Liviu Pop, we will be suspending today’s sitting. We will meet again after the doctoral candidate and his thesis supervisor decide to commence once again the necessary steps towards defending his thesis. We also ask that Mrs. Emilia Șercan kindly make available to us the supporting documents that were applicable in the making of this decision.

Dear doctoral candidate, we are sorry, but I think the best thing, both for the institution I represent and for yourself, is to ensure that there be no suspicion; no doubts shrouding your activity and the activity of your doctoral supervisor. I declare the public hearing closed. Thank you!”, is the statement given by the university professor Adrian Iacob, the Rector of the Police Academy.

It’s not a movie scene, it’s not the figment of one’s imagination.

This is what is currently taking place in Bucharest.

It is Wednesday, July 11 2018, around 14:00 in the afternoon, and we are in the National College of Internal Affairs (CNAI) of the Police Academy, specifically in the conference room. We are just finalizing the public meeting in which Liviu Marian Pop, former Minister of Education, defended his PhD thesis in the field of Public Order and National Security.

The sounds of chairs scraping across the floor as people stand up thunders throughout the room. A few handshakes are thrown around but there is no sign of kindness, nothing, not even a hint.

“I admit that I am more nervous now than I was when I took the military oath”

Last week, I submitted an official request to participate in Liviu Marian Pop’s thesis defense ceremony, since the Police Academy functions with the same regime as the military unit.

I also asked to view his dissertation, available inside the Academy library. Both requests were approved.

On Tuesday, July 10, after reading the doctoral thesis of the former Minister for four hours, it became very clear to me: entire pages of the paper do not comply with the rules of academic citation, which involve the proper use of quotation marks, in addition to paraphrasing and making appropriate references to the official sources.

Less than 24 hours after reading his thesis, I was back in the courtyard of the Police Academy, this time in order to attend the thesis defense ceremony.

Before the clock struck 11:00 in the morning, Liviu Marian Pop, accompanied by a young lady, appeared in the long hall of the CNAI, balancing himself on two crutches.

The Commission made its appearance with an almost 10 minutes delay. It was chaired by Adrian Iacob, the Rector of the Police Academy, and the four members of the panel were: Ţuțu Pișleag, Liviu Pop’s doctoral supervisor, Nicolae Istudor, the rector of the Academy of Economic Studies, Ioan Crăciun, the President of the Military Sciences Commission of the National Council for the Certification of Titles, Diplomas and University Certificates (CNATDCU), and George Țical, university professor at the “Andrei Șaguna” University of Constanța.

After the formal introductions were made, Liviu Pop, who is a mathematics teacher by trade, began to defend his thesis, entitled “Migration of the Workforce: Implications for National Security”.

He apologized for not being able to stand up due to the fact that he recently had three knee operations. He then mentioned he would probably have to go through a fourth operation as well.

Visibly nervous, with both his hands and voice shaking, Pop would occasionally ask the young woman who accompanied him to change the slides on his presentation. 

After no more than 15 minutes, the former minister completed his presentation, which is most unusual, given that the time allocated to the doctoral candidate was thirty minutes.

“I admit that I am more nervous now than when I took my military oath,” Pop confesses, his voice still uncertain, after apologizing for his “mistakes” and “stutters”.

Pișleag’s threat: “since you invited yourself to the thesis defense anyway”

Then Pop’s doctoral supervisor, Professor Tuțu Pișleag took the floor. He used up the time that had not been consumed by his doctoral student to give us a lecture on migration and globalization. It was quite obvious that the monologue was directed towards me and another member of the press who was in the room.

In the meantime, members of the panel started to lose their patience one by one.

George Țical used his cellphone phone under the table, and Adrian Iacob and Nicolae Istudor were fervently sending texts with their phones blatantly in sight.

Liviu Pop took notes, and with his left hand, he held his forehead to avoid any visual contact with the “press”.

Without stating what the strengths and weaknesses of the dissertation are, and without providing a qualitative and critical evaluation of the thesis, Pișleag announced that the candidate did a “very fine” job.

Liviu Pip’s doctoral supervisor spoke for a total of 45 minutes. And then, when making his closing remarks, he sent some threats my way, without trying to cover them up in any way. His grounds for doing so were the fact that “in any case, you were the one who invited yourself to the thesis defense.”

“When at war, it is good to be cautious, to be careful. Relationships of communication are relationships of power and strength. Dog eat dog,” Pișleag added.

The Rector of the ASE, Nicolae Istudor, began his discourse with a confession: he was sitting on the panel for a doctoral thesis defense for the very first time.

Although his area of expertise lies in the agrarian and food sector, he offered his congratulations, saying that the thesis is a well-chosen one, particularly from the perspective of “national security”.

The Rector of the ASE especially appreciated the conclusions and proposals made in Pop’s dissertation.

“The final result will also take the presentation of the Minister into account”, concluded Istudor, after saying that he is in favor of granting the title of “Doctor in Philosophy” to Liviu Pop.

Professor Ioan Crăciun, from “Carol I” National Defense University and the President of the CNATDCU Military Sciences Commission, began his speech by offering his congratulations to the doctoral student without any reservation or doubt.

However, Crăciun was the only member of the commission who critiqued Pop’s work and offered criticism regarding two points.  More specifically, he stated that the subject of the thesis should have been approached from the perspective of “social security.” He also said that some of the sentences in the dissertation were muddled and also difficult to understand.

Nonetheless, Crăciun appreciated the conclusions and proposals of the paper. In the end, he recommended that he be awarded a doctoral degree.

Professor George Țical gave the last discourse. He succeeded in finding elements in Liviu Pop’s dissertation that do not exist, for example, the Methodology that was used.

In the former minister’s thesis there is no chapter, sub-chapter or even phrase explaining the research methods used. George Țical mentioned the “Logical method, comparative method and analytical method” that were apparently employed.

“He made various proposals that had an accentuated note of originality,” asserted Professor Țical in his closing statement.  He also was in favor of granting Liviu Pop the title of “Doctor in Philosophy.”

In the meantime, Pop continued to press his left hand against his forehead and seemed weighed down by all the troubles of the world. This was surprisingly so since the panel only had positive remarks to make and congratulated him even before the committee left to deliberate.

Liviu Pop, on Wednesday, July 11th. Photo: Emilia Șercan
Liviu Pop, on Wednesday, July 11th. Photo: Emilia Șercan

Subsequently, the Rector of the Police Academy asked the members of the commission to address questions to the doctoral candidate, as part of the standard procedure.

None of the questions were of any challenge to Liviu Pop and some of them were completely unrelated to his thesis. His voice soon began to regain confidence.

“I personally recommend the publication of Pop’s doctoral thesis, of course, taking into consideration the elements that should be changed and that were brought up by my colleagues who have made various recommendations to you,” said Professor Adrian Iacob.

And as the standard procedure requires, he asked if the public had any questions they wished to address to the candidate.

At this point I decided to intervene.

Professor Pișleag’s threat, which was aimed in my direction, convinced me to speak up and state that the dissertation displays visible signs of plagiarism, although I had originally intended to only mention this in the the article, together with story about the defense ceremony.

“I am not sure how to interpret what you said about how<<it is good to be careful.>> I don’t know if it’s a recommendation or a threat. I’ll get over it and I’ll do my job.

Besides me being a journalist, I am also a teacher, I coordinate undergraduate and dissertation papers, I have a PhD and I know what scientific research means.

I came here to see how four university professors, among them a rector and the president of the CNATDCU Military Sciences Commission, are jumping at the chance to give award a doctoral degree for a dissertation that has elements of plagiarism in it”.

That’s what I said.

Rector Adrian Iacob responded by stating that according to the thesis analysis report, which had been completed using an anti-plagiarism software, there is a “coefficient of similarity 1 and 3 of 14.2%” and a “coefficient of similarity 2 and 4” of 5.2%.

“This resulting percentage is a fair one, which respects the percentage that we imposed by Senate’s decision,” he added.

Stupor.

Has the Police Academy come up with a legal percentage of allowed plagiarism in a dissertation through an administrative decision?

“Do you have a certain percentage that was imposed by the Senate’s decision?” I asked.

“30% at coefficient 1, which we want to reduce to 20% in the next academic year.”

Before seeing the dissertation in its physical format at the Police Academy library, I had checked the summary, which is a publicly available document, using the TurnItIn software. This software program is the best performance tool for identifying similarities between research works.

The percentage indicated by TurnItIn, when only analyzing the summary, is 25%. 

After identifying some of the plagiarized pages (which you can find below), I also mentioned that the conclusions and proposals that were made in the thesis, precisely those that were very much applauded by all the members of the panel, and which one of the members went so far as to describe as “original”, were completely plagiarized, word for word.

Before the panel members withdrew to deliberate what I had just revealed, Liviu Pop made a statement: “I never copied, nor did I ever plagiarize.”

The former minister also ascertained that all the sources he used were added to the footnotes found at the bottom of each page: “At the end of each sentence, I made a clear reference to the source I used.”

However, he did acknowledge that the conclusions made in his dissertation were “taken” from a report and that they do not belong to him. He then insisted that he did make references and included a footnote section even though he may not have used quotation marks.

“Do you want me to use quotation marks, is that it? We’ll put them everywhere, then!”  

Said Liviu Pop, his words drowning in fury.

After the heated exchange, the panel withdrew itself in order to deliberate. During this time, the former minister also mentioned that he quoted the works he used exactly as his thesis supervisor had advised him to do.

You know what comes next.

Beneficiary of European funds

Liviu Marian Pop became a doctoral student at the Police Academy, in the field of Public Order and National Security, on October 1, 2014, according to information that was exclusively presented by PressOne.

He was a POSDRU grant beneficiary while completing his doctoral studies, as part of a research program coordinated by the National Defense University, in which the Police Academy was a partner.

As a result of this project, he was one of the Police Academy’s 36 doctoral students who received a monthly scholarship of about 1,800 RON for half a year.

“By no means will the dissertation be plagiarized; this is something I can guarantee you”, said Liviu Pop’s doctoral supervisor Professor Țuțu Pișleag one year ago, in an exclusive statement for PressOne.  

At the time, Liviu Pop was Minister of Education. In the meanwhile, he resigned from the Ministry, resumed his activity as senator, and since February 1, 2018 he has been the chairman of the Commission for Education, Science, Youth and Sports of the Romanian Senate.

He also completed his PhD dissertation, which has 209 pages, without including the bibliography that is entitled, as I mentioned earlier, “Labor Force Migration: Implications for National Security ”.

Following the request I made to the Police Academy on Tuesday, July 10, I was given four hours to examine Pop’s dissertation at the Institution’s library.

During the four hours, an employee of the Academy, who did not move from my side, supervised me.

Before revealing the elements of plagiarism that I found, I first of all checked if the dissertation meets the most important requirements in order for it to be valid.

1. Is there cohesion between the theme, title and content?

Liviu Pop’s dissertation should be a combination, as the title infers, of the following three topics: labor, migration and security.

The first three chapters focus on the relationship between the labor force and migration, but the fourth focuses on the “Economic and Fiscal Dimension of National Security, through the Workforce Factor”, as its title indicates.

Nowhere in this chapter is there a mention about the means through which labor migration directly affects national security.

2. Does it have a clear structure?

The former Minister of Education’s dissertation does not have any of the essential requirements that are characteristic of a dissertation:

(1) literature review;

(2) methodology;

(3) results;

(4) discussion

Without all these components embedded in the dissertation, we cannot classify the document as a doctoral dissertation.

It can be said that it is bibliographic research, but this is done without critical substance and without bringing any elements of newness to the table, since it only reviews what other researchers have written about the chosen topic.

3. Is the topic related to the doctoral supervisor’s area of specialization in the least?

Professor Tițu Pișleag, Liviu Marian Pop’s mentor, is specialized in matters related to the Gendarmerie. The majority of his own work is dedicated to this area of Public Order.

He is not a specialist in the field of Workforce and Migration. Moreover, although the thesis was defended at the Police Academy and should be about the field of Public Order and National Security, the dissertation fails to make any connection to the field.

Here is the Table of Contents of Liviu Pop’s dissertation:

Here is the Table of Contents of Liviu Pop's dissertation:
Here is the Table of Contents of Liviu Pop's dissertation:

4. Are the members of the panel specialized in this field?

None of the four panel members is specialized in the workforce or labor migration field. In other words, none of them is in the position to critically and professionally evaluate this doctoral dissertation.

Adrian Iacob is the Rector of the Police Academy and a member of the Academy of National Security Sciences  (ASSN), the controversial institution founded by former Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea and former Director of the SRI, George Maior.

Țuțu Pișleag is a professor at the private university, Danubius, in Galați and a PhD supervisor at the Police Academy. For many years, he taught at the Police Academy and was the Dean of the Faculty of Police Faculty from 2008 to 2011.

Pișleag has been part of several PhD review panels at the SRI’s National Intelligence Academy, including that of General (r) Florian Coldea and General SRI Dumitru Dumbravă.

Three of the dissertations that were reviewed by Pișleag are plagiarized: that of former Prime Minister Mihai Tudose, that of former Mayor Neculai Onțanu and that of Judge Florica Diaconescu, regarding whom the CNATDCAU has definitively decided to withdraw the title of Doctor in Philosophy.

Pișleag was also part of the hiring committee for the position of university professor that the former Prime Minister Mihai Tudose applied for in 2013 at the SRI Academy, as PressOne reported.  However, this is a position he never occupied.

Since 2017, George Țical has been teaching at the “Andrei Șaguna” University of Constanța after being an instructor at the Police Academy for twenty years. Currently, the only position he occupies is that of doctoral supervisor in Public Order and National Security at the Police Academy.

Țical is also a titular member of ASSN, and in 2015 he was a member of the PhD panel review for George Antoniu Pișleag, who is a university lecturer at ANIMV and Țuțu Pișleag’s son.

Liviu Pop's PhD review panel. The first individual on the left is Țuțu Pișleag. Photo: Emilia Șercan
Liviu Pop’s PhD review panel. The first individual on the left is Țuțu Pișleag. Photo: Emilia Șercan

Nicolae Istudor is the current Rector of the Academy of Economic Sciences (ASE), and was elected in 2016. Since 2012, he has been serving as chairman of the CNATDCU Committee on Economic Sciences and Business Administration.

His presence in Liviu Marian Pop’s PhD review panel is considerably questionable because his specialization is in the field of agrarian economy and the technology of agricultural and food production, and all the research that he has published are related to these fields.

Since he became Rector, the ASE has aggressively prohibited access to doctoral theses in the Institution’s library. This decision is illegal, considering that both the Law of Education and the Code of Doctoral Studies explicitly stipulate that dissertations are public entities and should be made available at the libraries of the educational institutions where they were defended.

Ioan Crăciun is a professor at the National Defense University (UNAP). Since 2016, he has been a member of the CNATDCU Committee on Military Science, Intelligence and Public Order, and since last year, he has been serving as the Chairman of the Commission.

There are 16 reports on suspected accounts of plagiarism regarding doctoral dissertations being investigated within this particular Commission. Some of these reports are two years old, yet no final decision has been taken regarding their validity. These include the dissertations of former Prime Minister Mihai Tudose, Bogdan Licu – Deputy Prosecutor General of Romania, and Robert Negoiță, the Mayor of Sector 3 in Bucharest.

Publicly defending the dissertation is just the first step in the process of obtaining a doctoral degree.

After the defense, the thesis is sent to the CNATDCU Commission of Military Sciences, Intelligence and Public Order, which verifies its originality and decides whether the thesis includes all the elements listed above and analyzes it.

The fact that Ioan Crăciun. Chairman of this particular Commission, is a panel member for Liviu Pop’s dissertation defense, is entirely inappropriate. 

Doctoral candidate, Liviu Pop, face to face with the panel members. Photo: Emilia Șercan
Doctoral candidate, Liviu Pop, face to face with the panel members. Photo: Emilia Șercan

Liviu Pop quotes Soros

Entire pages of Liviu Marian Pop’s doctoral dissertation were plagiarized. He does not reference the work in the specific manner that is academically acceptable: by using quotation marks and citing the original source.

In some cases, he makes a reference to the original source but does not use quotation marks, in other instances, he indicates the source but when verified, the reference does not, in actuality, correspond to the source. Other times, paragraphs are copied yet there are no quotation marks used, nor is there any reference to the original source.

In several instances, before an entire paragraph is copied, there are expressions such as “in our opinion” or “one can ascertain that,” etc.

Within the dissertation, I discovered texts that were directly translated from English into Romanian, in addition to many mistakes, grammar and orthographical errors as well as missing punctuation. (For example, the word “repercussions” is written as “reprecussions”, twice, both in the Introduction and on Page 20. One obvious grammatical error is on page 176: “in our view, the notion of symmetry and asymmetry HAVE -instead of has-a different meaning within the framework”.)

In the Introduction section of the paper, Liviu Marian Pop makes a bleak prediction for the next 20 years: the exodus of the Romanian workforce to other European states “can only be replaced by millions of emigrants coming mainly from Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan.”

A surprising appearance in the dissertation is a quote from George Soros, the US billionaire who the PSD has held responsible for the protests that have taken place over the last year and a half:

“Other specialists (George Soros) believe that” the interdependence that results from globalization can have beneficial effects, but it can force some companies to painful reorganization and it can generate reorganization failures. Globalization offers a degree of individual freedom that no state can guarantee. Free competition on a global scale has freed entrepreneurial and creative talents and accelerated technological innovations. At the same time, globalization has produced a poor allocation of resources between private and public goods”. (George Soros, About Globalization, Polirom Publishing House, 2002).

Liviu Marian Pop’s dissertation gives the impression that there is “a little bit of everything” mixed in.

• On page 79, he discusses human trafficking. It is difficult to make a connection between this topic and the workforce or even migration;

• Between pages 125-134, he outlines the megalopolis (this is, in fact, a sub-chapter in which he copies and pasted from several online sources), and

• Between pages 186-187 he elaborates on terrorism and religious conflicts.

Evidence

I identified the first paragraph that was entirely copied within the Introduction section of the dissertation. It is taken from an article that was published on May 1, 2017 in the Journal entitled “Capital”.

Furthermore, the content on pages 66-67 of the dissertation is plagiarized as it is copied directly from the research paper “Labor Market and Labor Migration in the European context“, written by Diana Mihaela Tîrcă.

Although he refers to the work, Pop does not use quotation marks where needed. Moreover, he also copies the footnotes the author used.

The text found on page 73 is translated word for word, and sometimes reformulated based on an article located on the website “Forced Migration Online.”

Bits and pieces of the content from pages 84-91 are translated word for word, (various sentences, paragraphs and lists) from the book The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration.

For example, on page 84, Pop states “although this study is focused on the United States, the increase in the number of foreign populations is an international phenomenon that is found in all developed countries“. However, prior to this sentence, there is no reference to any such study.

Another article copied by the former minister is Migration and Demographic Perspectives by Alina Ioana Dida, the content can be found on pages 143-144.

On pages 145-146, Pop does not mention the source from which he copies but rather cites an entirely different source, the article “Factors Influencing Migration and Population Movements – Part 1”. On page 146, although there is a reference in a footnote, which indicates a UN report, the information that Pop uses is not, in fact, present in that report. 

On pages 191-192, Pop copies the article “Contemporary Globalization and its Forms of Manifestation” on the website Răsfoiesc.ro. Even the footnotes are copied, word for word, from the same text.

The Conclusion section of the dissertation, which is made up of four pages, is almost entirely copied, word for word, from the study of the Labor Market and Employment Policy, published in 2005 within the Phare Project “Initial Training in European Affairs for Civil Servants in a Centralized Public Administration“, implemented by the European Institute of Romania in collaboration with EUROMED – Euro Mediterranean Networks in Belgium.

Although Pop did not copy consecutive sentences or phrases, almost all of the content is taken from this source, including bothersome repetitions:

• promoting continuous vocational training;

• by promoting the benefits of continuous vocational training;

• involvement of the media and social partners in promoting continuous vocational training;

• monitoring the implementation of the strategy for the development of continuous vocational training.

Pop’s original contribution to Conclusions section is defined by a series of strange assertions:

“At the same time, measures will be taken (by whom?) to reduce the discrepancies between male and female on the labor market.”

“At the same time, we believe that through this scientific endeavor, the doctoral dissertation will produce a clearer x-ray of the steps that need to be taken, so as to stop the workforce migration to economically developed countries.”

Minister Pop and the case of Ponta’s plagiarized dissertation

In May of 2012, Liviu Pop was appointed the Delegate Minister for Social Dialogue in the first Cabinet led by Victor Ponta. For two months, he also took on the role of interim Minister in the Ministry of Education. This was during the scandal involving accusations that the Prime Minister at the time, Ponta, had plagiarized his dissertation.

In June 2012, the scandal escalated after the CNATDCU decided that Ponta had plagiarized his doctoral work and proposed to the Ministry of Education that his title of “Doctor in Philosophy” be removed.

But Liviu Pop issued a ministerial order declaring that the CNATDCU should be restructured and would ultimately have jurisdiction in the case of plagiarism decisions.

According to this “Order” that he issued, only the National Ethics Council would have the authority to a verdict regarding the validity of a dissertation.  He also took it upon himself to change the members of the Council.

Thus, this issue regarding Victor Ponta’s plagiarized dissertation dragged on for four years. It was only in 2016 that the CNATDCU was finally able to reestablish the verdict.  Minister Mircea Dumitru signed the order by which the former Prime Minister’s title of “Doctor in Philosophy,” which was obtained in 2003, was irreversibly removed.