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Norwegian Official Resigns Over Plagiarism After Cracking Down On It

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As Norway’s higher education minister, Sandra Borch, was responsible for making sure that students played by the rules. When one of those students was acquitted of the offense of plagiarism, Ms. Borch appealed, taking the case to the nation’s Supreme Court.

So it shocked the country when, just a few days later, Ms. Borch had to resign after it emerged that parts of her master’s thesis seemed identical to other reports that she had not referenced.

“When I wrote my master’s thesis around 10 years ago, I made a big mistake,” Ms. Borch said at a news conference on Friday, when she stepped down. “I took text from other assignments without stating the sources.”

The person who uncovered Ms. Borch’s misdeeds was Kristoffer Rytterager, a 27-year-old student in Oslo, who said he got “a bit pissed” that the minister went after an individual student for what he considered a minor mistake, and decided to look into the minister’s own academic work.

“When you are acting like you’re more sacred than a saint,” Mr. Rytterager said in an interview. “You shouldn’t have any skeletons in the closet.”

The case that angered him involved a student who had submitted an exam with some excerpts from a test she had turned in — and failed — the previous year. The student was suspended for two semesters in 2022, and her lawyer said the case had psychologically devastated her. More than a hundred professors and other academics signed a petition objecting to her treatment.

A court eventually acquitted the student, but the ministry of research and higher education, headed by Ms. Borch, appealed the decision, arguing that it raised some issues that the Supreme Court should clarify. The Supreme Court has not weighed in so far.

“It is important for all students, universities and colleges in Norway that the regulations for cheating, and their enforcement, are easy to understand,” the ministry said in a statement to the Norwegian newspaper Khrono at the time.

The government has proposed doubling the penalty for cheating and plagiarism, from a two-semester suspension to four, in a bill that is expected to land in Parliament later this year.

Mr. Rytterager said he was inspired by accusations of plagiarism against Claudine Gay, Harvard’s former president, to check Ms. Borch’s work. Ms. Gay resigned earlier this month after her presidency was engulfed by those accusations and allegations by some that her response to antisemitism on campus after the Hamas-led attacks on Israel was insufficient.

When Mr. Rytterager searched Google, he found that parts of Ms. Borch’s 2014 thesis in law were almost identical to a government report that she had not referenced. After he posted his discoveries on X, the Norwegian newspaper E24 published an article on the plagiarism. The thesis — on the regulation of oil extraction in Norway — even contained the same typos that appeared in a 2005 text, E24 reported.

The reports also spurred intense scrutiny of the academic work of other lawmakers, and reporters found that parts of the health minister’s thesis resembled other texts. The minister, Ingvild Kjerkol, has acknowledged that some references were missing, but she denied deliberate copying. Still, some academics called for her resignation.

Some politicians criticized what they saw as a media witch hunt on the work of 25-year-olds who later became politicians.

“Are the theses of newspapers editors also being checked?” Kristin Clemet, a former education minister, wrote on X.

Mr. Rytterager, who, when he is not studying, rides a tractor on his mother’s farm north of Oslo listening to audiobooks, said the case exposed something his work in agriculture had already taught him.

“On a farm you have to do your own work yourself,” he said. “You can’t steal that of other people.”

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