Published: 12th June 2021
Gujarat University Prof accused of forcing students to pursue PhD under him to boost API score
There are some allegations about the concerned professor's behaviour as well. A female student who worked under the professor said that they always had a high-handed attitude
PhD scholars of the Central University of Gujarat in Gandhinagar, Gujarat have accused a professor working in the School of Chemical Sciences, of forcing students - over the limit stipulated by the UGC - to complete their PhD research under them even though he is not an expert in that particular branch of Chemistry to boost the Academic Performance Indicators (API) score. API gives an idea the growth of a student, teacher or institution and was introduced by the UGC in 2010. The institutions review the API scores to determine if they would promote them or not. But API has been in controversy over the change in regulations.
But why would someone want to take on so many students? A former student who worked closely with the professor claimed that it was because they wanted their name to be associated with as many papers as possible and that would keep the Academic Performance Indicators (API) score high. "When the university opened its gates in 2009, there were not too many permanent faculty and the professor would take on the researchers. The PhD scholars too did not object because they thought that if they can weather through it they would get their degree. The professor also helped in the publication of these papers. For the first few years, there was no problem. But as the papers started getting reviewed by the international journals it appeared that there were several allegations of scientific misconduct — data manipulation, plagiarism topping the list. Around 15 of the papers co-authored by the professor were flagged on PubPeer, a platform that has been used for reviewing and then whistleblowing plagiarised or incoherent research for years," said Dr Ram Kumar*, who completed his PhD under the professor.
Much like the line from Eagles' Hotel California: You can check out anytime you leave, but you just can't ever leave, the professor was allegedly not keen on letting researchers transfer out. A female student who worked closely with the professor said that they always had a high-handed attitude and would never let any student transfer to another faculty. "If students wish to join another faculty, they refuse to give the required NOC and documents for the transfer. Since the prof held a position of power, there is absolute power and influence over other faculty members as well and then they too do not want to take on PhD students from them." she explained.
This has apparently gotten out of hand in the past. "The professor uses complete dictatorial rule when it comes to transferring the students. A couple of years back, one female student had suffered similar problems. She visited the VC, but nothing worked out as the professor is the seniormost faculty. That girl sat for an indefinite hunger strike and when the situation got out of hand only then did the university administration allows her to transfer to another faculty. Many of us aren't brave enough to take such extreme steps," said Leela Kumari*.
This alleged autocratic behaviour hampers the research atmosphere as well. Students have been receiving several emails from reputed journals asking for clarification on papers that have now been listed on PubPeer for scientific misconduct, said Dr Kumar. "The professor does not even reply to such mails. Recently one research article published by the professor was withdrawn by the Journal of Current Graphene Science, by the reputed Bentham Science because it was plagiarised," he added. This has been corroborated by another scholar. "Many students who completed their PhD under Dr Singh got emails from journal editors questioning the quality of their already published research papers. It created an atmosphere of panic among students. Few of them also fear getting disqualified and sacked from their current jobs," said Dr Leela Kumari.
UGC allows only a maximum of eight PhD students per supervisor but the students alleged that the professor has way more students than that. "Even till a few years ago, the prof was guiding almost 25 to 30 PhD students — from both the Nanoscience Department and the Chemistry Department. How is the university allowing such misconduct is the most important question?" she added.
When we reached out to the professor, they said that such online criticism from web portals like PubPeer is common and should not be paid heed to. "There are lakhs of things floating around on the internet. We cant pay heed to everything. We have to keep doing our work," they said and declined to comment on the allegations put forward by the students.
We have also sent an email to the Vice-Chancellor's office and are awaiting a reply. Their comment will be added to the story if and when they reply.
*names changed to protect identity