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Corruption in academia

Published:Wednesday | April 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Contributor

FOR A country that is consistently ranked as one in which corruption is endemic, it is pretty interesting to see that the venerable Professor Trevor Munroe has been appointed an individual member of Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog.

After many years of advocacy for better accountability in public life, the professor becomes the first person from the Caribbean to have been so appointed and will join an elite group of 27 persons around the globe.

In its 2011 Global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Jamaica scored 3.3 of a possible 10 and was ranked 86 of 182 countries on the corruption scale. There is so much work to be done if this 50-year-old nation is to improve its image and erase the perception that it is mired in corruption. The cost of corruption is inestimable and the effect is that development is seriously hampered. Usually, it is the poor of society who suffers most.

While we talk a great deal about the need to tame corruption in the public sector, not much focus is ever placed on academia. So I am particularly happy to celebrate Professor Munroe's appointment because as a leading academic in the region, he has helped to mould the minds of many of the men and women who are leaders and decision-makers in today's Caribbean. And I believe he would agree that significant changes need to be effected in the various lecture rooms and campuses around the country where there are reports of myriad corrupt activities.

Ethics and academic honesty

Ethics and academic honesty are subjects that we tend to approach rather cautiously, if at all. For example, in this age of the Internet and the worldwide web, many persons cannot distinguish between what is plagiarism and what is not.

Take the business of textbook sales. Students can now buy textbooks that have been photocopied by wily entrepreneurs at a fraction of the price if it had been bought from a legitimate source. I feel sure that if I raised this topic with some persons, the quick response would be: "Ah nuh nuttin dat". But to the author, who is being cheated, and to the student who is quickly learning that to get ahead he must first learn to beat the system, because the end justifies the means, it is indeed a big deal. Lecturers look the other way when they see students flipping through the pages of photocopied text. There is no moral outrage. Authoritative figures are hard to come by but some sources suggest this is a booming business in Jamaica.

Lewd proposals

Then there are plenty of stories about the behaviour of teachers who target young university students. There are numerous accounts of lecturers texting students with lewd proposals. Some students who fear that rejection will damn their chances of success in their studies are left confused and depressed. But these matters are not discussed in public.

There are some students who scoff at the need to work hard to achieve. In fact, there have been cases where almost everyone in the class is struggling to complete an examination. Who doesn't know of a case where this one student in the class is able to breeze through an otherwise tough examination? On closer scrutiny, this student is said to be friendly with the lecturer. These are among the topics that are discussed behind closed doors.

If we do not lift the lid off these happenings, then we continue to pay lip service to stamping out corruption.