Letter Reignites Controversy Surrounding Paul Ratsara Plagiarism Scandal


(Spectrumbot) #1

Last week, a letter appeared online that has reignited the controversy surrounding allegations that Paul Ratsara did not author the majority of his 2014 Doctor of Theology (DTh) thesis from the University of South Africa (Unisa). Ratsara is the former president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (SID) of Seventh-day Adventists who resigned in 2016 after his Vice President, Hopeson Bonya, confessed to authoring five of the six chapters of the thesis.

The letter dated April 3, 2018, purportedly written by Professor Q. M. Temane, the acting registrar of Unisa, states that the university has concluded its investigation into the allegations concerning a ghostwriter. The letter goes on to say that “our investigations have revealed that there is no evidence to substantiate the claims that a ‘ghost writer’ wrote the chapters in question” and that Ratsara’s DTh degree is “in good standing.”

However, this conclusion directly contradicts the investigation conducted by SID in 2016, during which Hopeson Bonya confessed to authoring the thesis, causing Ratsara to subsequently resign the presidency.

Questions regarding Ratsara’s academic qualification first came under widespread scrutiny when The New Age, a daily newspaper in South Africa that covers nine provinces and claims a daily distribution of 100,000 readers, published an exposé alleging that both Paul Ratsara and Paul Charles (then SID communication director) had falsified their academic qualifications in an effort to ascend to powerful, well-paying leadership positions within the Adventist Church.

Though entwined by The New Age reports, the allegations against Ratsara and Charles were different. Charles was found to have fabricated the existence of certain academic qualifications altogether, and eventually ordered by SID to go back and complete his BA degree (undergraduate studies). With Ratsara, the question was not whether he had a doctoral degree, but whether he had fairly earned it.

Initially, SID leadership strongly rebutted the allegations against both Ratsara and Charles, releasing a statement that said in part, “There is simply no truth to any allegations contained in the [New Age] article and the representations made regarding education and compensation are unfounded.”

However, as further revelations emerged, SID leadership appointed an ad-hoc consulting committee to investigate. This was then followed by a decision at the regularly scheduled meeting of the SID Executive Committee (EXCOM) on May 17, 2016, to form a committee comprised of both outside forensic investigators appointed by the committee from an independent law firm, and internal EXCOM committee members, to conduct an investigation into the matter.

On May 23, 2016, sixteen concerned academics and church members of SID penned an open letter to General Conference President Ted Wilson, expressing concern about the situation and requesting a thorough investigation. The letter raised serious questions about Ratsara’s academic qualifications, suggesting that his thesis on women’s ordination may have relied on work done by the SID Study Committee (BRC) for the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC).

In advance of the 2015 General Conference Session, each of the church’s 13 divisions had committees that were assigned to study and report on the theology of ordination, and then present their findings to TOSC. The SID study committee was chaired by Ratsara.

The concerned academics stated that the “SID church community was not privy to the actual work of the SID BRC and the final report was never shared with the rest of the church membership or made public.” As previously reported, though SID presented a summary of its position to TOSC, it never submitted its full report.

The letter additionally noted that “what seems to lend credence to all these suspicions” is that Ratsara’s thesis cannot be found in Unisa’s library, nor is it online in Unisa’s Institutional Repository, the university’s digital archive of theses and dissertations.

On May 24, 2016, a special meeting of the SID EXCOM was held, chaired by Ted Wilson. It was at this meeting that Hopeson Bonya came forward and confessed that he’d written five of the six chapters of Ratsara’s thesis. With the confession in hand, the May 17, 2016 decision to conduct a forensic investigation was rescinded.

A motion was then made to ask for Ratsara’s resignation, but the motion was later withdrawn. Then, a motion to “register displeasure at the way the doctorate was obtained by Paul Ratsara” was narrowly passed (30 in favor, 28 against).

In the official minutes for the meeting, the Action (#16-043) concerning registering displeasure against Ratsara’s qualifications read in full:

WHEREAS the SID EXCOM noted a detailed presentation from Paul Ratsara pertaining, inter alia, to support he received in the compilation of his ThD qualification obtained from UNISA; and NOTING that there may be some diverse interpretations on what would constitute possible excessive reliance on research support Paul Ratsara may have received in the compilation of his ThD Thesis; and NOTING further that, according to Paul Ratsara, the ThD qualification passed the institutional test of plagiarism by UNISA; VOTED in the context of the aforegoing and only limited thereto, to express the EXCOM’s displeasure to Paul Ratsara for the manner in which he acquired his ThD qualification.”

At the end of the day’s meeting, Wilson asked Ratsara if he wanted to say anything, to which Ratsara replied that he wished to step down, indicating it would be difficult to serve because of what amounted to a no-confidence vote against him by the committee. Wilson asked Ratsara to sleep on it before making a decision, and indicated that the GC’s executive leadership might not be willing to accept his resignation. However, by May 29, 2016, Ratsara had confirmed his resignation to both GC and SID officials, and on May 31, 2016, the GC Executive Committee accepted it.

A statement originally published on the Adventist News Network website, but subsequently removed, quoted Ratsara as saying, “To refocus the church that I love, back to its God-given mission, and to prevent it continuing to be distracted, I have humbly decided to voluntarily request reassignment as a local church district pastor somewhere within the territory of the Indian Ocean Union, my home union.”

From 2016 to present, Ratsara has been serving in the Seychelles as a pastor.

On May 31, 2016, Unisa confirmed it would begin an internal investigation into Ratsara’s 2014 DTh degree. It is this investigation to which the new letter, dated April 3, 2018, refers. It is unclear whether GC or SID leadership furnished its evidence to Unisa for their investigation. Neither the GC nor the SID responded to specific questions asked in 2016 regarding this matter, and Unisa did not respond to requests for comment.

At the time of this writing, neither Acting Registrar Temane nor Unisa have responded to multiple requests for verification regarding the authenticity of the letter and requests that its investigative report be made public. Furthermore, Paul Ratsara’s thesis is still not available on Unisa’s Institutional Repository. SID leadership has not issued a statement regarding the conclusion of Unisa’s investigation, nor have they responded to request for comment.

Letter purportedly from Professor Q. M. Temane to Paul Ratsara, dated April 3, 2018:

UPDATE 1 (May 14, 2018 at 10:40 a.m. EST): On May 14, 2018, Professor Q. M. Temane, acting registrar of Unisa, verified the authenticity of the letter and stated that “the matter is considered closed by the University.”

UPDATE 2 (May 16, 2018 at 1:55 p.m. EST): On May 16, 2018, Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela issued a statement on behalf of the university regarding its investigation.

Further Reading: Allegations of Fraudulent Degrees Raise Questions for General Conference Appointee, April 25, 2016 Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division: Paul Charles "Does Not Possess Any Accredited Qualification”, May 2, 2016 SID Academics, Church Members Write Open Letter to Ted Wilson, May 23, 2016 Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division President Paul Ratsara Offers Resignation Amid Academic Qualifications Scandal, May 25, 2016 Paul Ratsara Steps Down, GC Accepts Resignation as Unisa Begins Investigating Doctorate, May 31, 2016

Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image credit: SpectrumMagazine.org file photo

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8755

#2

Excellent summary and timeline of events. Keep us posted for further developments on this strange story.


(George Tichy) #3

Thanks for this summary and update.
Hmmm, something appears “fishy” in this letter from UNISA. Why don’t they confirm its authenticity immediately.
This may become interesting soon…


(reliquum) #4

On the other thread I made mentioned observation that something about using “ghostwriter” repetitively in that letter seemed , well, a bit “off”, “you know what I mean”?
I had forgotten the part where Mr Wilson asked to withhold the Excoms “displeasure”.

I am sick at heart; something stinks in Denmark.


(Phillip Brantley) #6

Hopeson Bonya dramatically and publicly confesses to ghost-writing five of the six chapters of Paul Ratsara’s thesis in a SID EXCOM meeting with Ratsara present, no one including Ratsara controverts the confession, Ratsara immediately responds by offering his resignation, attendee and GC president Ted Wilson implores Ratsara to sleep on it, and after Ratsara does so he remains unmoved in his decision to resign. These facts remain dispositive, because the UNISA letter is conclusory. The letter does not exonerate Ratsara but revives a dormant scandal. It would be nice if we could forget what happened, but we have not been allowed that tender mercy.


(Tihomir Odorcic) #7

Purely scientifically there are no ghosts :genie:‍♂️. A university as a home to science can’t recognize something non scientific as are ghosts. Ghosts don’t and can’t write theses or papers.
But Mr Bonya is no ghost.


(Harry Elliott) #8

So Ted Wilson is willing to ignore overwhelming evidence of plagiarism. You have got to be kidding me!


(efcee) #9

Am I the only person who thinks it outrageous that a person can be given a pastoral assignment after having resigned an administrative position over an issue of academic integrity? Prayer and compassion for this person are needed, but there also must be a standard by which Pastors are held to account.


(George Tichy) #10

Apparently there was some kind of a deal done. TW even offered him to “sleep over it” when it was evident that he needed to resign for good, for academic fraud. Instead he got at least one Church to pastor and guide. I wonder if he is excluding moral issues from his preachings… :wink:


(Pauluc) #11

I am not so certain on all this. There seems to be some clear discrepancies which makes one or other of the initial condemnation or the subsequent exoneration being touted by conservative sites suspect. The internal investigation by the SID and the statements admitting significant section of the thesis had been written by Hopeson Bonya seems to have been conceded by Ratsara. Was he at the time in error in accepting this or is the apparent exoneration by UNISA somehow tainted. We cant have it both ways. The exoneration is correct or the original investigation was correct but they cannot both be so. I would really like to see the thesis. Why has UniSA not made it available? Does anyone have it now that it seems to have been accepted as valid?


(jeremy) #12

i think it’s possible that three things are true:

  1. ratsara really did write his thesis, as a UNISA investigation has now found…

  2. ratsara handed in his resignation in 2016, not because he was guilty of anything, but because he was at a point in his life, having served as SID president for 11 yrs, with no designs on the GC presidency, where peace and quiet, and a relatively pleasant semi-retirement, was an appealing option…

  3. bonya got caught up in the recriminations and virtual guilty verdict launched by a group of concerned academics whose not-so-subtle quest for influence led them to find and pounce on what really wasn’t a ready-made scandal…due to a weak, hyperactive conscience, he confessed to what never happened…alternatively, his fevered imagination saw a change of guard developing in SID, and he thought that a confession, so taylor-made to what he knew was wanted, would position himself to maximum advantage…

these are conclusions consistent with the known facts…i realize that anti-TW conspiracy theorists will not find them particularly gratifying, but it may just be that paul charles, who was always open about his unaccredited degrees, doesn’t represent a vast underground of fraud being perpetrated by leadership in SID that TW is complicit in, and that ratsara’s PhD is a smoking gun for…

awwe…this was such a good opportunity to blast TW, but now it’s gone - gone with the wind of hot air that this entire affair was obviously all about from the very beginning…


(Phillip Brantley) #13

As far as we know, no one has accused Bonya of being psychotic. He has not been admitted to an insane asylum. Not even in the movies would your conjecture regarding his confession be considered credible or even plausible.

Until Bonya’s confession is controverted with facts, Ratsara and his reputation will remain under a cloud. UNISA’s conclusory letter and the wild conjecture you offer is not helpful to Ratsara.


(George Tichy) #14

What?
Jeremy, the probability that ANY one of your options is the real answer is basically nil.


(Elmer Cupino) #15

Are you going on record that Mr. Bonya perjured himself intentionally in front of his peers and TW?

A more important question is “Do these known facts reach the morality threshold of GC or of Unisa?” Doesn’t Unisa have a more stringent morality threshold than the GC?


(Carlo Schroeder) #16

Unisa is saying that the said document shows no writing style discripency, which means that maybe a panel wrote the whole thing concerning womens ordination, and they put his name on it, or he never the document. We need to see what the SID submitted against women ordination and his thesis.


(Tim Teichman) #17

Well, after all the Adventist church is really good at it:

http://www.bible.ca/7-WL-exhibits-image-Wylie.htm


#18

jeremy vandieman, This is not an attempt to “blast TW.” It is well known that TW abruptly left his evangelistic meetings in Rwanda to go to the SID for this matter - so clearly TW viewed this matter as concerning. And despite the SID vote to register officially their displeasure, TW still wanted Ratsara to consider staying on. UNbelievable. Yet Ratsara wisely/cleverly held to his decision to resign (seems evident that Ratsara knew the truth, and Hopeson Bonya knew the truth; and it’s likely that Ratsara feared that more evidence of what he did would come out, especially since Bonya had confessed/admitted - in official meetings - that he had written 5 of the 6 chapters for Ratsara).

Please address the fact that the public does not have access to the SIDs BRC TOSC papers - even though all of the other Division BRC papers are available on the SDA Archives. From where do you think Bonya/Ratsara obtained their information for Ratsara’s thesis on Women’s Ordination?

Please also address the fact that UNISA does not have Ratsara’s dissertation on its website, or online. Why would this be?

Actually, at the time TW became GC President, Ratsara was on the short list of names to become GC President (so it is doubtful that #2 is valid).

Why would Hopeson Bonya ever confess to that - UNLESS he were paid to do so, OR unless he felt forced to because of the negative publicity?

Interesting that Paul Charles worked under P Ratsara - as did Hopeson Bonya. Could both have tried to cover for both (but the President would always ‘win out’ as it were?).


#19

This is precisely the central question. The mystery. No one, even people “off their rockers,” confesses to plagiarizing an academic doctoral dissertation/thesis in front of an executive committee with the doctoral student present, unless something else is going on. This is behavior that should be investigated. UNISA offers no explanation of their 2-year process whatsoever. And where is Hopeson Bonya?

We know that Paul Charles’s academic credentials were not, in fact, academic at all. No Ph.D. at all. And wasn’t he claiming TWO Ph.D.s? Had he even finished his bachelor’s degree? It seems that the Executive Committee sent him to a university to finish his undergraduate degree, which was not even in communication, the speciality he had responsibility for in a division, no less.

As someone who was the victim of plagiarization in my doctoral program, caught by the dean of the school, there was an internal process where I brought documentation and testified about the event. I was treated with utmost respect and the plagiarizer was dismissed as a professor from that university (yes, it was one of my own professors using one of my major projects that was part of my dissertation). It did not take two years. It was swift and final. The university did not hesitate to fire the professor.

I have no patience for plagiarizers in the academic arena. In the church arena in this case, the mystery has just deepened and the wrinkles are quite stunning given the topic of the dissertation, the very politics of that topic, the behavior of the graduate in resigning on the spot, and the admission/confession on the spot in the executive meeting of a “ghostwriter,” as UNISA called it in its letter.

The thing is, people just don’t willy-nilly confess before an executive board that they have cheated by writing someone else’s dissertation (5 of 6 chapters). Something is going on. What? It just doesn’t add up. And no one seems to be able to provide a reasonable and honest answer.


(George Tichy) #20

Well, who knows if he was waterboarded? Nowadays we never know… :wink:


(George Tichy) #21

Your points make sense are all valid. I hope this issue will be properly clarified, and not just “archived” based on a single letter from UNISA. The issue is much more complex than this.