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Several political commentaries published by the director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center (MEC) appear to borrow heavily from unattributed sources, prompting an inquiry by university officials.
One of the pieces is an op-ed about the Egypt turmoil by Bahman Baktiari that was published in The Salt Lake Tribune on Feb. 5. According to an analysis by MEC faculty and students, given to top U. administrators and The Tribune on Tuesday, the piece replicates material from at least four sources, including The New York Times and The Economist.
In an interview Thursday, Baktiari said he was unaware that he needed to attribute material written by others in opinion pieces he wrote for newspapers.
David Pershing, the U. senior vice president for academic affairs, acknowledged he was aware of the analysis, but declined to discuss it because it is a personnel issue.
"We are beginning to understand more about this issue but there is still much we do not know, and we need the direct involvement of Dr. Baktiari's dean, Robert Newman, who is out of the country for a few days," Pershing told The Tribune in an e-mail shortly after administrators met with Baktiari on Thursday.
Allegations of plagiarism are addressed immediately and carefully under established procedures that give accused scholars "due process" and "peer judgment," Pershing's e-mail said.
"Using the scholarly work of others and claiming it as one's own is plagiarism and is not tolerated at the University of Utah. Students or faculty who engage in this practice face serious disciplinary consequences, including possible expulsion for students and termination of employment for faculty," Pershing wrote. "Integrity of one's thoughts, ideas and expressions is foundational to our work at the University."
Baktiari has been published in newspaper opinion sections for years, notably the Christian Science Monitor. His attorney, Willis Orton, said the professor had not been required to give attribution in the past.
"We understand there is similarities, but there was never a request for attribution," Orton said. "The [Tribune] opinion editor never made it clear. The policies need to be clear. What concerns me is the effort to impose these things after the fact."
Baktiari submitted his piece to The Tribune by e-mail on the evening of Jan. 29. The Tribune first published it online on Feb. 3 under the headline "Why all the Middle East turmoil?" It was removed Thursday from the newspaper's website.
"I am frankly astonished that Mr. Baktiari, an academic who one supposes would be steeped in the knowledge that a scholar must attribute the words and ideas of others to their proper source, would make such a claim," said editorial page editor Vern Anderson.
Baktiari is an Iranian-born political scientist at the U. who was hired from the University of Maine, where he was director of research and academic programs in the School of Policy and International Affairs. He earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia.
Although Baktiari's expertise is international politics, his U. faculty appointment is in the department of languages and literature in the College of Humanities, rather than the political science department. He teaches Persian and courses in Iranian society as a tenured associate professor.
MEC faculty contacted by The Tribune declined to comment.
The similarity between The Tribune piece and one in the New York Times was first noticed by a U. professor, who brought it to the attention of senior MEC faculty. Their subsequent scrutiny found it contained what appeared to be the prose of others, according to the analysis forwarded to The Tribune. The piece includes what seem to be nearly identical passages from a Jan. 27 article in The Economist and a June 30 posting on a CBS site.
And a commentary under Baktiari's byline on the MEC website, about Iran and the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables, is the work of Columbia University scholar Gary Sick, an Iran expert whom the MEC has hosted in the past.Baktiari said Sick gave him permission to post his piece on the MEC website. He said it was erroneously posted under his byline and will be corrected.
Comparing the commentaries
University of Utah officials are investigating an allegation that faculty member Bahman Baktiari used unattributed material from other sources in an opinion piece published Feb. 5 in The Tribune. Here is the first paragraph of a piece written by MirHossein Mousavi, a candidate in Iran's 2009 election, which was posted Jan. 29 on the website of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Iran in Europe. It is followed by the first paragraph of the piece Baktiari wrote for The Tribune, before it had been edited for publication.
Mousavi piece • "The Middle East is on the verge of defining and massive moments which can change the course of the destiny of this region, the world and the fate of other nations in the region. What is taking shape now is certainly overthrowing a despotic and tyrannical rule and trend which has been overwhelming the fate of many nations in the region. The starting point of what we are now witnessing on the streets of Tunis, Sanaa, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez can be undoubtedly traced back to days of 15th, 18th and 20th June 2009 when people took to the streets of Tehran in millions, shouting, 'Where is my vote?' and peacefully demanded to get back their denied rights."
Baktiari piece • "The Middle East is on the verge of defining and massive moments which can change the course of the destiny of this region, the world and the fate of other nations in the region. What brings all the forces in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan together is one common mission: Overthrowing a despotic and tyrannical rule and trend which has been overwhelming the fate of many nations in the region. But the starting point for all of these developments was not Tunisia, it was in Iran in June 2009 when people took to the streets of Tehran in millions shouting 'Where is my vote?' and peacefully demanded to get back their denied rights."