Star academic at Fudan University accused of stealing design

Fudan University stands by professor accused by ex-student of copying foreign hearing aid before winning seat on prestigious academy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 January, 2014, 10:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 4:00am

Shanghai's Fudan University, one of China's oldest and most respected places of higher learning, is standing by one of its professors who has been accused by a former student of copying foreign technology for a hearing aid.

Professor Wang Zhengmin has been under fire for more than a year over a former student's claims that he copied Australian technology in designing an artificial cochlea in 2003.

The device received a domestic patent and provided a reputation boost for the professor, who two years later was elected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). A Fudan University investigation last year cleared him of wrongdoing.

But the university has been placed back on the defensive after China Central Television reported on Tuesday that four CAS members have asked for the academy to review documents Wang provided to support his recommendation.

The former student who accused the professor, Wang Yucheng, claims that 57 of 271 papers that Wang Zhengmin submitted to the academy as part of the election process were problematic.

"He is desperate to keep a lid on his … behaviour, but I won't let him succeed," Wang Yucheng, 45, told the South China Morning Post. The former student said he had submitted reports backing his claims to Fudan University authorities early last year.

In September, the university published a report after conducting an academic investigation clearing the professor of plagiarism in the hearing aid design. But it urged him to improve the standard of his academic papers.

The issue resurfaced after state-run broadcaster aired the claims that the cochlea, a surgical implant for patients suffering from hearing loss, was a copy.

Fudan University held a press conference the next day, saying Wang Yucheng's accusations were the result of resentment towards his former professor.

University authorities and Wang Zhengmin say the student's accusations came after his "unreasonable demands" were turned down. They say he wanted to be groomed as a key talent and hired as a secretary to the professor.

"That's a total lie," Wang Yucheng said. "They are increasingly scared of me because I can reveal the whole truth of the matter."

However, four other CAS members have turned against Wang Zhengmin, and questioned the integrity of his academic work, CCTV reported.

"Our assessments and reviews were not strict," Liu Xinyuan, a CAS member, told CCTV. "We were responsible" for granting him his title, Liu said. "We have to admit it."

A new regulation released by the Ministry of Education early last year promised harsh punishment for false academic papers. But it has done little to end widespread plagiarism.

Part of the problem, critics say, is the regulation failed to clearly define plagiarism or academic fraud.

In 2010, Xian Jiaotong University stripped Li Liansheng of his professorship and a 100,000 yuan (HK$126,0000) Scientific and Technological Award after six colleagues repeatedly complained to the university about his academic integrity.