University autonomy under democratic backsliding: a case study of a plagiarism investigation against Serbian Minister of Finance (2014–2019)

Slobodan Tomic, Branislav Radeljic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Scholars have documented a tendency of (semi-)authoritarian regimes to undermine university autonomy, mainly through organizational (de jure) changes. This paper presents a case study of a publicly triggered plagiarism investigation by the University of Belgrade into the doctoral thesis of the Serbian Minister of Finance, one of the key members of the increasingly authoritarian regime. The analysis finds a proceduralized and delayed response of the university’s leadership, which indicates lowered de facto autonomy from politics, despite the university’s continually high de jure autonomy. The investigation was closed only after a mobilization within the academic community which resulted in a university’s blockade that forced its leadership to retract the contentious thesis. The case study shows that, in contexts of democratic backsliding, political capture can extend farther than usually thought, impacting even the implementation of internal university standards. On the other hand, the analysis also shows that political capture is not necessarily irreversible and that academic community can mobilize to ‘undo’ it. This reinforces the notion of academic communities as value-driven groups capable of exerting peer pressure to override even authoritarian pressures. In order to understand the dynamic of the plagiarism inquiry in its entirety, we apply insights from theory of power to complement and overcome the limitations of the conventional theoretical frameworks on democratic backsliding and academic autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)979-1001
Number of pages23
JournalHigher Education
Volume84
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Academic integrity
  • Democratic backsliding
  • Plagiarism
  • Power
  • University autonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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