Letter Reignites Controversy Surrounding Paul Ratsara Plagiarism Scandal

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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 was 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 to 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 had 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 it 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. Click here to read that follow-up story.

 

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

 

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