Not long ago I started a new folder I called “Daily Musings.” As I read the day’s news and find something interesting I jot it down with comments. Today there was a lot to be both amused and outraged about.
First and foremost the far-right Magyar Hírlap just happened to learn about the existence of some documents that proved that the brother of the president of Semmelweis University also had an encounter with plagiarism. Zsolt Tulassay, a gastroenterologist who also teaches at Semmelweis, together with a Hungarian colleague, László Herszényi, submitted an article to the international periodical Clinical Gastroenterology. That was in 2010, but the article never appeared in print because the editorial board of the journal found that “there was significant overlap” between their article and another earlier publication by Michael B. Wallace of Jacksonville, Florida. The editorial board’s verdict was disputed by Tulassay and Herszényi, who claimed that only a couple of sentences were questionable and those were not in the part that contained original research. They used Wallace’s work and quoted from it. They also included his article in the bibliography. However, the editorial board of Clinical Gastroenterology rejected the paper.
Zsolt Tulassay was apparently anticipating such an attack. In his statement he wrote that “because of the situation that developed concerning Semmelweis University the re-emergence of a story that happened a few years ago didn’t surprise [him].” At Semmelweis Zsolt Tulassay was the chairman of the Habilitációs Bizottság (Committee). The concept of “habilitáció” doesn’t exist in Anglo-Saxon countries but it comes closest to “tenure.” Well, Zsolt Tulassay is no longer the chairman of this committee. He resigned. Some commentators, Zsófia Mihancsik among them, smell a rat. Did some people in Fidesz know about this blotch on Zsolt Tulassay’s professional record? Did they hope that Tivadar Tulassay, the president, would play ball fearing that otherwise his brother’s encounter with Clinical Gastroenterology might be exposed? We will probably never know. But if some people hoped that the president and the senate of the university would try to save Schmitt’s neck they were wrong. In fact, as the day went on a mini-revolution developed at Semmelweis.
So, they found that Schmitt plagiarized. Well, that’s bad but perhaps to counter that decision Fidesz and its supporters could find dirt on some people in the democratic opposition. Who is the best candidate? Ferenc Gyurcsány, of course. Gyurcsány received two degrees, both from the University of Pécs. A local online newspaper, Pécsi Újság, mysteriously hinted that “news is spreading that not all is well with Gyurcsány’s senior papers.” In fact, the newspaper claimed, he never submitted the compulsory senior thesis, but because he was the KISZ secretary of the university it granted him a degree anyway. Pécsi Újság included a video from a documentary on Gyurcsány put together by a right-wing journalistic crew. On it one can hear Tamás Mellár, professor of economics, saying that Gyurcsány indeed received special treatment. For example, Mellár received a telephone call from the party secretary announcing that “Comrade Gyurcsány is coming today to take his exam.” However, adds Mellár, he didn’t need any assistance from above. Mellár gave him a “B.”
Gyurcsány made available his “leckekönyv” or “index” which registered his grades. Gyurcsány wasn’t exactly a sterling student, but there is no question that he did write two senior papers for the two degrees he received, one in biology in 1984 and another in economics in 1990.
The attacks on the scientific community are intensifying. The Tatabánya chapter of the Christian Democratic Party issued a statement in which Pál Schmitt’s sufferings were compared to those of Jesus Christ and Semmelweis University to Pontius Pilate! It seems, however, that the modern institutional Pontius Pilate had enough, especially after it became clear that Schmitt is planning to sue the university. This afternoon the office of the former president of Hungary issued a statement in which Schmitt said that his resignation is due solely to his desire to serve the interest of the country and not sow seeds of strife in Hungarian society. His resignation has nothing to do with anything else. So, he refuses to accept the verdict of plagiarism. In addition, he again announced his intention to sue the university.
A couple of hours after this announcement 117 professors of Semmelweis also issued a statement in which they expressed their complete agreement with the decision of the university senate. The statement reads in part: “The professors of Semmelweis University fully agree and identify with the verdict of the senate of the university.” They also support Tivadar Tulassay who stood up for the quality of Hungarian and international scholarship.
I consider Fidesz-KDNP’s frontal attack on the medical profession unwise. Until now the medical community has overwhelmingly supported Viktor Orbán and his party. They were disenchanted with the reform attempts of the Gyurcsány administration and foolishly believed Fidesz’s promises not to touch the existing structure of healthcare and at the same time to pour huge amounts of money into the unreformed system. Naturally, nothing came of all these promises and the medical profession is profoundly unhappy and disappointed. And now this attack on Semmelweis.
And, I fear, this is not the end. After the medical doctors will come the rest of the academics, if one can believe János Lázár’s rantings. The influence of those who take intellectual integrity very seriously should not be underestimated. In recent Hungarian history universities have not exactly been political ivory towers.