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Student disputes plagiarism charge against Romanian leader

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An unfair, “flimsy” plagiarism charge has been leveled at Romanian Baptist leader Paul Negrut, according to an American student who took a course under Negrut that is the focus of the accusation.

“It seems odd to me that in all of these press reports, no one is interviewing students who actually took the class!…If they [accusers] were truly motivated by academic integrity, they would not be anonymous.”
Trevin Wax
Past Student of Negrut’s ethics course
Minister of education, missions
FBC Shelbyville, Tenn.
Various course-related materials were not plagiarized but were identified in a course description and syllabus distributed to students in the class in the fall of 2004, said Trevin Wax, who studied at Emmanuel University in Oradea, Romania, from 2000-05.

Wax told Baptist Press March 5 he believes Negrut, who is president of the university and also president of the Baptist Union in Romania and pastor of Oradea’s Emmanuel Baptist Church, has been accused “unfairly. The accusation is flimsy at best. And because the accusation of plagiarism against Paul Negrut is so flimsy, the people who have launched this attack are afraid to do so publicly. If they really had a case, they would put their names behind it.”

Wax said he first noticed the accusation Feb. 28 on the website of a tabloid-like newspaper, Informatia de Vest (translated, “Information from the West”) based in Oradea. That day, Wax sought to set the issue in context on his weblog, http://trevinwax.wordpress.com. At least one media outlet proceeded March 1 with its version of the story based largely on the tabloid’s account, calling course supplemental materials in a notebook a “book” and using a description of the materials, “Ethics Course,” as the title for the supposed book.

At issue are printed translations related to a Christian ethics course Negrut was teaching. The plagiarism charge involves eight chapters that were translated from a 1995 book by a California professor.

Wax noted that the printed materials at issue were resources on file in the university’s library for students to access for the course exam. The materials were for “internal use for students,” Wax said, and could be copied via a copying machine or by hand. They could not be removed from the library and they were not for sale.

Although the materials, from a book by Biola University professor Scott Rae titled “Moral Choices,” were listed in the course description and syllabus, Wax recalled that their source was not identified in the university file.

The translation from English was not a professional-caliber translation, Wax said, but was done simply “to make the material accessible to students who don’t know English.”

As Wax noted in his weblog, “This is not unusual in Romania. Most courses were done this way, since few of the books needed were translated into Romanian.”

On his weblog, Wax recounted that, contrary to other reports, the file in the library “was never a book, in the proper sense, and was never published. It was a collection of materials placed into a notebook without a [book-like] spine. Students could not ‘buy’ the course. We had to go to the library and make copies of the materials needed for the exam in order to have study material.”

Wax also recounted, “Bro. Paul did not teach the printed course [materials] as his own…. He certainly didn’t use it when he taught the class. He used his own notes, current events, and occasionally quoted other authors.”

The class, Wax said, was “one of the most exciting classes during my time in Romania.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree at Emmanuel University in 2005, Wax studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., until becoming minister of education and missions at First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Tenn., in January. He is continuing his SBTS studies by extension.

Wax commented to Baptist Press, “I think this accusation is a symptom of a greater problem in Romania. Baptists in Romania were united under the persecution that came from communism. But the blessing of freedom has brought a new set of challenges. Unfortunately, good Baptists have since turned on each other often over trivial disagreements on non-essential doctrines of the faith.

“It is difficult for people to be objective regarding the charge leveled against Paul Negrut,” Wax continued. “Those who dislike Brother Paul for other reasons too quickly accept these charges as true and uncontested. Those who support Brother Paul’s leadership quickly dismiss the charges as completely inaccurate.

“In the end, though, my comments are not about the church political climate in Romania,” Wax said. “This is about a man being accused of plagiarism, and I believe unfairly.”

On his website, Wax wrote, “It seems odd to me that in all of these press reports, no one is interviewing students who actually took the class! The motivation of the ‘group of Baptist believers’ in question is not to obtain justice of Scott Rae or to demand better academic accountability, but to discredit and demean Paul Negrut. If they were truly motivated by academic integrity, they would not be anonymous.”

An eight-member North American trustee board that assists the Romanian university released a statement recounting that the board met Feb. 12 to address the plagiarism allegation. Members of the board include Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas; R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Missouri; Florida pastor Ted Traylor; and evangelist Bailey Smith.

“Having carefully considered the accusation of plagiarism against President Paul Negrut this board finds such allegations false and regrettable,” the statement noted.

“President Negrut has expressed his regret for the translation inadvertently without proper attribution of a portion of Dr. Scott Rae’s monograph, Moral Choices. Two copies were made and kept in the library of the school, next to the English copy of the book, for the benefit of Romanian students. Dr. Rae has received Dr. Negrut’s apology and indicated his willingness to seek permission from Zondervan Publishing Company to translate the remainder of the book into Romanian with attribution.

“Following a thorough investigation, the board finds no evidence whatsoever of plagiarism. Portions of the translation were made by several people including Dr. Negrut. None of their resumes take credit for authorship nor has any financial gain been sought by any. Rather, an effort was made, without appropriate attribution, to provide readings for Romanian students.

“We further express profound regret that some have apparently sought to discredit a godly man without the courage or Christian character to reveal their own identity,” the statement noted. “While we regret the accusations, we find Dr. Negrut innocent of intent to deceive and further express our full confidence in the integrity of the leadership, the theology promoted, and the evangelistic and missionary mission of Emanuel University.”

Rae, author of Moral Choices and professor of biblical studies-Christian ethics at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., told Baptist Press he and Negrut met for about 45 minutes in February when the Romanian leader was in the Los Angeles area for a speaking engagement. Rae also noted he had received a letter of apology from Negrut last November.

“We had a very good conversation,” Rae said. “He apologized quite sincerely for what he called a regrettable error in not attributing credit to the translation properly. He denied any plagiaristic intent and I have no reason to doubt that.”

Negrut could not be reached for comment March 5 for this story.