- Imagine a country that has had hyperinflation for more than a year, and whose minister of finance with plagiarism has so much free time to re-do his doctorate in Slovakia, and the president of that same country has time to attend university, because he never pursued the profession of the university he graduated from , while half a million citizens left the country for his mandate. If you can't imagine it, well, we live in such an idle state with at least a three-fold increase in the national debt - Dr. Vladan Čokić, scientific advisor and member of the Coordination Board of the Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA), one of the signatories of the request, tells Danas for the review of the doctoral dissertation of the former director of the Official Gazette, Jelena Trivan.

When asked how, as a scientist, he explains the need for politicians to have a PhD, Čokić believes that for politicians, a PhD is only for promotion in positions in government positions and that someone with the title would take them more seriously during empty political speeches.

- In addition, various complexes promoted by positions of power are also treated. There used to be actual evening schools, now there are instant diplomas, that is, those who are in government positions get further education in a hurry. With such a lazy approach of state officials, the importance of profession, knowledge and education is consciously devalued and we come to the primitive, i.e. initial level: "Life is the best school", and everything else is a form. Even more, this devalues all those who throughout Serbian history contributed to education and culture in Serbia, and the media promotes sectarian idolatry. A doctorate is only one stage in scientific research work during an academic career, necessary for further advancement and affirmation in research and teaching. This is followed by research through scientific projects and publications.

How did it come about that a number of MASA members filed a request to determine non-academic behavior against Jelena Trivan and what were your motives?

- In the media, plagiarism of various public figures was spread through personal initiatives, and we at the Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement received applications from colleagues for other doctorates with allegations that plagiarism was involved. Some of them are very well explained. The resistance of the state apparatus to the university-confirmed plagiarism of Siniša Malog raises the question of systemic political defense of all plagiarism. Of the received applications for plagiarism, Jelena Trivan's PhD already had a developed problem, which we processed again in detail and argued and sent a complaint to the Faculty of Philology. We presented obvious arguments, submitted documentation and are waiting to see the decision of the Expert Commission. We have the violation of the university's autonomy, the devaluing of academic work, media and parliamentary attacks on academic colleagues, are these not enough motives for the activities of MASA, including calling for plagiarism according to the established procedure? Let them not feel singled out but called out for plagiarism, they are not the first, and they will not be the last. It is precisely these efforts of MASA that aim to introduce greater responsibility in the performance and defense of doctoral dissertations and ultimately improve the system of their control.

Does it surprise you that the Expert Commission that should review Jelena Trivan's doctorate has not yet been formed? Do you expect further prolongation of the National Council for Higher Education, which should propose one member?

- We now have a conflict of interest in the National Council for Higher Education because its member is Professor Aleksandra Vraneš, who was Jelena Trivan's mentor for the controversial doctorate. I hope that Professor Vraneš will be excluded from the vote, and it is important to emphasize that she was appointed there on the proposal of the Ministry of Education, which also appointed Professor Milija Suknović, former dean of the Faculty of Organizational Sciences (FON) to the same National Council, who did not follow the procedure in in the case of Siniša Malog's doctorate, that is, he did not act according to the decision of the Teaching and Scientific Council of the FON and imposed a measure of public condemnation on Malog. If the plagiarism of Jelena Trivan is confirmed, then her mentor's responsibility will be great, if not greater. Then she no longer has anything to ask for in the National Council, but everything is possible seeing how the National Accreditation Body and the Government of Serbia remained indolent at the request of MASA to withdraw from that body Professor Žika Bujuklić, MP of SNS, and the incriminated Ivan Bulatović. At the public debate on the Law on Higher Education, MASA raised the question of the majority (9:8) that the Ministry and the Chamber of Commerce have in the National Council for Higher Education, in relation to the conference of universities and academies of vocational studies and colleges, and made an objection which of course was not respected. Here we are now at another test of that majority. Gentlemen, here you go - the party or the credibility of the academic institutions in which you originated. When the state does not respect the basic educational authorities in this way, but distributes according to the majority party, then what can we say about the independence of education and personnel solutions.

How do you comment on the statement of Jelena Trivan, who accused the business competition of running an orchestrated campaign against her as the director of Telekom Srpska? She was not in that position when you submitted the request.

- A little more than a year ago, MASA started checking Jelena Trivan's doctorate, not being interested in where and what she is currently doing, as it is not important to us now, and whether it will be for those who appointed her is not in our competence. We are all very familiar with the fact that the current party staffing has nothing to do with expertise. It is interesting that in that statement she also states that "you are free to dispute the elementary school." I don't know why the subject is being spun so far, but it is interesting that the current president had the same arguments when he defended Sinisa Mali with the words "he can be a minister even with an elementary school". Another glaring example of neglecting education in the country, I would not dare to say from the state, but from the top of the party, because I hope that the parties are transitory, and the state is not.

Except for Sinisa Malog, all the doctorates and diplomas of politicians that have been contested so far were obtained at private universities. Now we also have Jelena Trivan, who got her doctorate at the state faculty. In your opinion, are these isolated cases or just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to state universities?

- Based on the objections received by MASA, we are not limited to private universities, nor to mentors from private universities. Conformism has crept into the ranks of higher education, mentors and committees do not look at submitted doctorates in detail, everything has turned into a formality and the excuse is lack of time, and on the other hand, they fill out the mentor's resume for further advancement. Often also due to incompetence for the chosen topic of the doctorate, where the essence of the problem is not considered, but perhaps banal details are contested.

It was the MASA research on academic integrity that showed that two thirds of the surveyed scientists know at least one colleague who has plagiarized a scientific work. What does that say about domestic higher education?

- On the one hand, this speaks of the hyperproduction of doctorates without strict criteria and the careerism of mentors, and on the other hand, it speaks of the lack of resources in science. Previously, we had master's degrees before doctorates, while now we have short and formal master's degrees. The master's degree served to train the future doctoral student in research work, to understand the principles and protocols, and then as an already independent and experienced researcher to approach the doctorate, where he will choose the topic of the research work with the mentor, which the mentor will supervise and direct if necessary. Now the field of doctorates is being entered by ignorant researchers who have clearly skipped one level of education and see the doctorate as their capital, when in fact they were technicians for its execution. Representatives in higher education are responsible for this, and by shortening the procedure for doctorates, they opened the door to instant doctorates for politicians. Now, according to the market principle, we are talking about the speed of execution, and not about the quality of the doctorate.

The same research also shows that every second respondent would not report plagiarism. So what does that say about the academic community? On the example of the case of Sinisa Malog, we saw the silence of a large number of members of the academic community. On the other hand, we have also witnessed that individuals who raised their voices were crucified in the tabloids. The silence is explained by the fact that people are afraid, but in the public we also hear the comment: "What should a university professor be afraid of?" How much interest, conformity, or something else is involved?

- Colleagues, don't be afraid! Just as there is no excuse for fear when it comes to solidarity and collegiality. If you do your job responsibly and diligently, I can only fear you. In these conditions, where you feel like you are fighting windmills, it is enough for every other member of the academic community to report plagiarism. Everyone in the academic community knows about Sinisa Mali's plagiarism and looks at it with indignation, and Sinisa Mali is the most responsible for this by persistently reminding the public through the legal denial of university-proven plagiarism. And he simply does not allow the academic and the general public to forget his plagiarism. Sometimes timid whispers are heard further and deeper than empty loud speeches. Kudos to the individuals who preserved academic integrity and brightened the image of the academic community with their public words. MASA is here to support them, as we have done so far through various activities. Excuses like "I don't have time" and "I have better things to do" are just an escape from the dreary reality that sooner or later will knock on your door if we don't solve it together.

The proceedings against Sinisa Mali have been academically completed

Are you surprised by the length of the proceedings against Sinisa Mali? Do you expect him to get an epilogue in due course or will it wait until he is no longer in power? Do you expect a delay in the case of Jelena Trivan?

- The proceedings against Sinisa Malog were academically concluded by the decision of the Committee for Professional Ethics of the University of Belgrade, which in November 2019 determined his non-academic behavior during the preparation of his doctoral dissertation, i.e. confirmed plagiarism. The abuse of the state and judicial apparatus to challenge the decision speaks more about our judiciary than about Sinisa Mal. Again we have the violation of university autonomy. I don't know if you remember when in 2014, regarding the contested doctorate of Nebojsa Stefanović from Megatrend, the current president stated that he had read it and that it was a professional work?! Well, now we have progressed an octave higher in sophistication when the Administrative and Constitutional Courts are engaged to justify the plagiarism of the Minister of Finance and challenge the decision of the University of Belgrade. Now it's just a question of whether we've hit rock bottom. If the verification of Jelena Trivan's doctorate is delayed and obstructed, we are still in free fall.

Text taken from the site Today: INTERVIEW Dr. Vladan Čokić: Politicians get instant diplomas to promote and treat complexes - Society - Dnevni list Danas