University of Utah fires tenured Bakhtiari for a “pattern of plagiarism”

I  just returned from a few days in Vienna and the Ruhr Valley – a region which is no stranger to political high intrigue and deception and I am just catching up with some of my backlog.

Salt Lake City has had its share of intrigue in the past but the latest is the firing of Utah University’s tenured Director of its Middle East Centre, Dr. Bahman Bakhthiari:

A faculty panel substantiated nine instances of plagiarism by former University of Utah political scientist Bahman Bakhtiari, who directed the Middle East Center from July 2009 until February 2011. The materials include five book chapters, his doctoral dissertation and three opinion commentaries. Bakhtiari says the plagiarism was due to carelessness. The U. administration terminated Bakhtiari against the recommendation of the panel, which proposed lesser sanctions.

Bahman Bakhtiari

Bahman Bakhtiari

The university interim President, Lorris Betz,  overruled the panel recommendations writing in a June 30th letter:

“Plagiarism — holding out the work of another as one’s own — strikes at the very core of academic integrity. …. The only appropriate sanction in this case is dismissal, which is necessary to preserve the academic integrity of the institution and to restore public confidence in the university.” 

I have always wondered why “political scientists” are so-called and the use of the word “artist” – as used in “con-artist” – may be much more appropriate for “scholars” dabbling in the black-arts.

Lorris Betz

Needless to say, Bakhtiari sees a certain level of political connivance against him says the Salt Lake Tribune

Bakhtiari, whose name also appears in print as “Baktiari,” maintains the overlap between his work and that of others was not intentional. He says his firing represents an unwarranted intrusion by administration into faculty governance. The Iranian-born scholar also alleges he is the victim of discrimination perpetrated by a “pro-Arabist faction” within the MEC.

 Bakhtiari defended his integrity, arguing that he has produced 3,500 pages of scholarly material with 14,000 footnotes over the course of his career and the panel found problems with only eight pages. Twelve diplomats and prominent scholars, including Gary Sick and Judith Yaphe, from around the world submitted letters vouching for his character.

“It is not a pattern when you have published 90 articles,” Bakhtiari said.

In a letter to Betz asking him to limit the sanction to a private reprimand, Bakhtiari’s lawyer Christopher Finley said no evidence was presented to suggest the political scientist’s mistakes were motivated by a desire to take credit for others’ original work or that these mistakes harmed the university. 

In fact he may well be right because the case of administrative “clerks” – even if holding high rank – over-ruling an academic finding is rare – but not unknown for political reasons (as with hospital administrators firing doctors from time to time). Nevertheless Bakhtiari was clearly not good enough at the game of political intrigue which – after all – should have been his speciality. He seems to have made elementary errors of money management and political judgement. Exhausting all the money available must have been a red rag to the administrative bulls.

The plagiarism probe focused mostly on materials Bakhtiari submitted to the U. when he applied for a tenured position two years ago, according to the U. documents. At that time he was director of the University of Maine’s School of Policy and International Affairs.

In his defense to the panel, Bakhtiari conceded he made “mistakes” and was “sloppy,” but denied he intentionally copied, despite “convincing evidence” that his work borrowed whole sentences and paragraphs from other sources with no attribution, according to the June 14 CHC report. His defense focused on the history of “internecine strife” plaguing the Middle East Center and the “derelictions” of his former U. colleagues, alleging one professor concealed his lack of a doctorate for decades but was not fired.

The faculty panel acknowledged Bakhtiari faced “extreme hardship” trying to right the center, but pointed out that much of the documented plagiarism occurred long before he arrived in Salt Lake City. Noting it reached its conclusions with “great sadness,” the panel by a 3-2 vote recommended a public reprimand, six-month suspension without pay, transfer out of the College of Humanities and “retraction” of the offending publications. ….

The case against Bakhtiari was based on a March 7 complaint filed by four professors and humanities dean Robert Newman, who hired Bakhtiari with the hope of revitalizing the Middle East Center in the wake of a leadership shake-up. This group was particularly incensed with Bakhtiari for inserting two paragraphs — taken verbatim from a speech delivered by National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach — with no attribution into a conference proposal prepared by students. … 

In February, U. graduate students first uncovered passages in Bakhtiari’s published work, starting with an opinion piece in The Tribune that appeared to contain unattributed material from others’ work. Around that time, an audit revealed that the center had exhausted its financial resources under Bakhtiari’s leadership.

Newman placed Bakhtiari on paid administrative leave in February, took over the center’s fiscal affairs and initiated an investigation. This probe documented 11 instances of suspected plagiarism, including material used in his course syllabus, book chapters, the MEC newsletter and commentaries. It discovered eight pages of Bakhtiari’s 1984 dissertation at the University of Virginia, which awarded his doctorate, contained passages that had been pulled from five other sources without attribution.

The faculty panel substantiated nine of these instances, but concluded sanctions weren’t warranted for the copying apparent in the conference proposal and course syllabus.

Meanwhile, the University of Maine, where Bakhtiari taught when he wrote most of the material found to be plagiarized, will review his work according to spokesman Joseph Carr.

But still cases of tenured staff being fired from US Universities are exceptional and very rare. When it does happen a “resignation” is usually engineered (as in the case of Marc Hauser).


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One Response to “University of Utah fires tenured Bakhtiari for a “pattern of plagiarism””

  1. A hotbed of intrigue: Bahman Bakhtiari sues Peter Sluglett after being fired from Utah University’s ME Center « The k2p blog Says:

    […] Two months ago Bahman Bakhtiari was fired from the University of Utah’s Middle East Center for a pattern of plagiarism. Now he has filed  a suit last Friday in 3rd District Court against Peter Sluglett, the center’s senior-most faculty member and a former Director of the Center himself. Deseret News:  Bakhtiari alleges that two senior faculty leaders at the center conspired to eliminate him after personality conflicts. He also alleges in the lawsuit that a senior faculty member, who was a former center director, lied about having a Ph.D. from UCLA and that faculty conspired to cover it up. […]

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