TUT professor suspended for 'plagiarism'

A Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) professor has her back against the wall over allegations of plagiarism and failure to disclose an academic conflict of interest.

Keolebogile Shirley Motaung, TUT's assistant dean responsible for postgraduate studies, research and innovation, was suspended by the institution last week.

Sowetan has seen a memo that said Motaung was being suspended for alleged "misconduct relating to plagiarism, scientific fraud and infringement of copyright" in her study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Another ground for her suspension was apparently an objection to a research article she submitted to the Iranian Biomedical Journal.

Bone SA, an external organisation that funds TUT's Centre for Tissue Engineering, complained that the manuscript breached contract by not disclosing experiment funding.

"The lead researcher [Motaung] and co-author failed to declare a conflict of interest based on their collaboration with Bone SA and the funding and research grant provided by Bone SA," its managing director, Michelle Narayan, wrote to the journal's editor in August.

Bone SA's objection was the latest of Motaung's academic troubles.

The editor of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the Netherlands-based professor Robert Verpoorte, wrote to her in June to inform her of possible plagiarism.

At contention was that the article contained a figure also part of Motaung's other study published in another journal.

Verpoorte told her that her papers might be picked up by publications "that mark any paper with large overlap and put it on their website as a potential case of plagiarism. And it will stay there until you can prove that this [is]not plagiarism".

Willa de Ruyter, spokeswoman for the university, yesterday confirmed Motaung's suspension. She said the move came "in view of an internal investigation currently under way". The probe would look into copyright infringement.

"It is normal procedure to suspend staff members while an investigation is under way," De Ruyter said.

"Pending the outcome of the investigation, the standard internal disciplinary procedures will commence."

However, Sowetan has seen a letter in which a senior colleague vehemently defended Motaung, saying she has been "suspended without basis".

Professor Edgar Nesamvuni, executive dean of the faculty of management sciences, wrote to vice-chancellor Lourens van Staden two days after the suspension last week.

He told Van Staden the Bone SA issue had been resolved. "Contractually, there was nothing wrong that Motaung had done," wrote Nesamvuni.

Nesamvuni said "legally, Motaung should be afforded the right of reply since the editor-in-chief did not say she has committed academic fraud or has plagiarised".

Motaung, who said she is in Paris, France, declined to comment. She demanded the identity of Sowetan's sources. "Who told you? Just contact her or him," she said via SMS.



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