‘Oligarchy’ claims as Romania set to abolish rectors’ term limits

Government also set to introduce effective amnesty on doctoral plagiarism and loosen rules on candidates’ relatives from serving on hiring and promotion committees

September 28, 2022
Godfather film scene to illustrate ‘Oligarchy’ claims as Romania set to abolish rectors’ term limits
Source: Alamy

Romanian rectors have faced fierce criticism for largely declining to condemn reforms that would remove their two-term limits, among other changes that critics say undermine the integrity of the sector.

Reforms proposed under the redrawing of Romania’s higher education law by President Klaus Iohannis also include an effective amnesty on doctoral plagiarism and a loosening of the rules forbidding candidates’ relatives from serving on hiring and promotion committees.

Among the beneficiaries of the term changes is Sorin Cîmpeanu, who suspended his role as two-term rector of the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest and chair of the National Council of Rectors while he serves as education minister.

“We have here a very strong network of rectors, and these rectors are all more or less involved in politics,” said Ciprian Mihali, a philosopher at Babeş-Bolyai University who specialises in academic misconduct.

He said that many in this “special network” had cut their second terms short, allowing them to use a recently introduced loophole that states that a “full term” must be served, in effect allowing a third leadership term.

Professor Mihali said the reforms had the tacit approval of an “oligarchy” of rectors close to Professor Cîmpeanu. “There is a very strong alliance now between the rectors and politicians.”

Romanian university leadership has become increasingly attractive with the promise of just over €29 billion (£25 billion) in post-pandemic European Union recovery funding, some of which will be funnelled into research and higher education.

Radu Vancu, an associate professor at the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, said the changes to terms and hiring rules were connected. “It’s about being a famiglia,” he said, and “running a university like a family business”.

“It’s not in the benefit of the education system, it’s not in the interest of the universities themselves, to have a group of people eternally connected to resources, to university patrimony and finances,” Dr Vancu continued. “It’s an open admission of the fact that these laws have been written to consolidate the power and access to resources of a group of people.”

One of the few rectors to speak out against the changes is Daniel David, who leads Babeș-Bolyai, one of the largest and highest-ranking universities in the country, which he said would retain a two-term limit in its institutional rules.

He said that while other countries may not enshrine term limits in national law, Romanian society was “not prepared” for such leeway.

“In Romania, typically, someone who is in a position of power is not seen as a representative of the group but as the boss of the group. People are used to being told what to do rather than having a lot of initiative,” Professor David said.

While the lifting of term limits has raised concerns, Dr Vancu said the “most toxic” part of the draft law was the amnesty on doctoral plagiarism, which would allow those accused to renounce their PhD and face no further consequences.

As with other changes, many politicians stand to benefit, including Nicolae Ciucă, the prime minister, the third office holder in a decade to face allegations of doctoral plagiarism.

“This is more than just an academic problem; it becomes a system that openly encourages theft. Not only are you not punished but you openly get privileges by stealing. How can one build a country on such a system of values?” Dr Vancu asked.

ben.upton@timeshighereducation.com

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