UNC alumnus to lead plagiarism investigation in Russia

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A UNC graduate will help lead a plagiarism investigation in his native Russia that could target top officials — including President Vladimir Putin.

In February, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced the investigation of academic dishonesty in Russian higher education, which will be led by Igor Fedyukin.

Fedyukin, a UNC doctoral graduate, started serving as Russia’s deputy minister of education and science in June 2012.

IGOR FEDYUKIN

To read Igor Fedyukin’s dissertation, “Learning To Be Nobles: The Elite and Education in post-Petrine Russia,” go to http://bit.ly/Y2a9yt

Plagiarism has been a widespread problem in Russia since the Soviet Union fell in the 1990s, said Donald Raleigh, a UNC professor of Russian history. The probe is the first of its kind in Russian history, Raleigh said.

In Russia, Ph.D. candidates often pay ghost writers to complete their dissertations or copy previously published work, and Russian public officials largely ignore the practice, Raleigh said.

Fedyukin came to UNC in the late 1990s and earned his Ph.D. in history in 2009. He could not be reached for comment.

When Fedyukin graduated and returned to Russia, he sought to share new ideas from the U.S. with his colleagues and encourage higher standards in Russian academia, said Jay Smith, a UNC history professor who helped review Fedyukin’s dissertation along with Raleigh.

“I think that, like many people who study abroad, Igor saw himself as someone who could bridge two worlds,” he said. “The idea was that he would put his American Ph.D. to use in Russia and help reform the country.”

Before Medvedev announced the investigation, Fedyukin and other academics had conducted a review of dissertations at a Moscow university, Raleigh said.

They found numerous instances of plagiarism, illuminating the size of the problem, he said.

“What’s behind what Igor is doing is really to improve Russia’s academic standing,” Raleigh said. “That’s his job, to shake things up, to make things better.”

The academic probe raises the question of whether Putin will be formally accused of plagiarism.

A 2006 Brookings Institution report found that more than 16 pages of Putin’s dissertation were copied from a Russian translation of an American business textbook — but it remains to be seen whether the investigation will implicate Putin.

“It’s a common pattern in Russian political culture to announce campaigns against corruption, but the problem is so deeply rooted with high-level officials that are involved, and there are low-level scapegoats who feel the brunt of the campaign,” said Jeff Jones, an associate history professor at UNC-Greensboro who also helped review Fedyukin’s dissertation.

Regardless of who is targeted, those who know Fedyukin said he will likely use the talents he cultivated at UNC to continue to cause a stir in Russian academia.

“He’s likely to get some political pushback,” Smith said. “But he’s articulate, he’s strong-willed — he’ll survive the turmoil.”

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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