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April 19, 2021

Dead journal revived in KU to publish backdated papers for ‘promotions through unfair means’

Karachi

April 19, 2021

The entrance of Karachi University. File photo

It is a matter of common sense to believe that any article cannot cite works that came into existence after its date of publication. However, this logic has been defied by the research journal of the University of Karachi’s (KU) history department as a large number of its issues, which are also available online, contain research papers that cite news stories, internet articles and other papers that had not existed when those issues were produced.

Clearly, those biannual issues of the Journal of History and Social Science (JHSS) were published in some dates much later than the six-month period written on them. According to some faculty members of the KU, the purpose of backdating around a dozen issues of the journal was to help promote some teachers through unfair means.

Before May 2019, it was January 2013 when the JHSS issue was last published. The journal, which was never recognised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), was then apparently abandoned as it was not published for around six years. However, in May 2019, a dozen issues of the journal suddenly appeared, heralding that the journal was not dead. A few more issues of the journal have also been published since then, in which not only local but also foreign scholars, including those from the United States and India, have contributed their papers.

These issues of the JHSS can be accessed online through www.jhss-uok.com. However, the issues have not been uploaded in their complete form as no foreword, table of contents or index, etc. can be found on the website, which only offers individual articles published in the issues in the PDF format.

After the Jan-Jun 2013 issue when the journal was discontinued, 15 issues of the journal from Jul-Dec 2013 till Jul-Dec 2020 have been produced. Most of these 15 issues comprise only four research papers; however, some have carried five or six. A total of 127 scholars have produced 65 papers in these 15 issues.

Series of blunders

Although the website as well as the printed copies of these JHSS issues mention their dates of publication, these dates must be incorrect as many papers in these issues cite articles that were produced after those dates.

When the JHSS issues were closely read, bizarre anomalies emerged. For example, a paper ‘Trends of Pakistani films: An analytical study of restoration of cinema’ co-authored by Fouzia Naz and Sadia Mahmood in the issue of Jul-Dec 2017 reads, “The revival of the Pakistani film industry was observed in 2007 when Khuda Kay Liye was released and then improvements were seen in every movie till 2019.” It is inexplicable how in an article that was published in 2017, its authors have analysed improvements in the Pakistani movies up till 2019.

In the same paper, the authors have cited many articles that were originally produced after 2017 but in the references, the years of such articles have been changed to 2017. One such article cited in the paper is ‘What makes the revival of Pakistani cinema an uphill task’ by renowned journalist Hassan Zaidi. However, according to the Herald website, Zaidi’s article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of the magazine. Again, the article being cited was written after the year of publication of the issue.

Similarly, the authors have referred to a blog titled ‘A Brief History of Pakistani Film Industry –And Its Revival’ written by Sagar Samy for Dunya News on January 4, 2018. Its year has also been changed to 2017 in the reference.

The JHSS Jan-Jun 2015 issue has carried another paper by the same authors titled ‘Impact of Highlighting Social Issues through TV Dramas on the Audience’. This article that was supposedly published in 2015 mentions other articles in the references that appeared in 2017 and 2019.

In their paper, the authors have also cited a report titled ‘Pakistan honour killings on the rise, report reveals’ published on the BBC website on April 1, 2016. However, the authors have maintained in the reference that they accessed the BBC article on February 5, 2014.

Another paper ‘Uprootedness in Ferghana Valley: The Tragic Consequence of Ethnic Diversity and State Policies’ has been written by Hina Khan in the JHSS Jan-Jun 2014 issue. In this paper supposedly published in 2014, the author has cited over a dozen articles that were published between 2015 and 2019.

In the paper ‘Collection of Serial Publications in Selected Public Libraries of Karachi: A Descriptive Study’ published in the Jul-Dec 2015 issue, authors Farhat Hussain, Rafat Parveen Siddiqui and Sameena Farheen have quoted on several pages interviews of librarians that were conducted in 2018, three years after the issue was supposedly published.

In the Jan-Jun 2016 issue, a paper ‘Study on Stipend Program and Girls’ Education in Public Schools of Sindh’ authored by Muhammad Safar Unar, Tayyaba Zarif and Aziz-Un-Nisa carries at least two references of 2018 and one of 2019.

A paper titled ‘Karachi’s Performative Charisma: Charisma in the City of Karachi’ co-authored by Saqlain Zaidi and Muhammad Moiz Khan was published in the JHSS issue of Jan-Jun 2017. It cites an interview ‘I Imagine and Write in a Locally Grounded Way: Bilal Tanweer’ conducted by Saeed Ur Rehman for the Herald, and mentions its year as 2018. The article was indeed carried on the Herald website in 2018 but it was originally published in the Herald’s February 2014 issue. However, the authors have cited the website content which was uploaded after the issue was supposedly published.

In the abstract of another research paper ‘Development of Dairy Sector and Trade Reforms in Pakistan’, authors Rummana Zaheer and Saman Hussain write: “For the purpose, the period studied here is from 1990 to 2017 with an examination of major dairy products and their contribution in agricultural and national GDP.” Although the authors say that they are studying a period until 2017, the article has been published in the JHSS Jul-Dec 2015 issue.

The News also found backdated articles in issues of the JHSS prior to 2013. The July-Dec 2011 issue of the journal contains a paper ‘Why do People Blame Others?: An Opinion based Survey of a community of Karachi’ by Naila Usman Siddiqui and Shehla Abubaker, which cites articles published in 2012.

‘Illegal and unfair’

It is not the case that such anomalies went unnoticed at the varsity. Three faculty members of the KU history department – Dr Farah Deeba Khan, Dr Humera Naz and Dr Jabbar Khan – have written multiple letters to the KU administration and the HEC, stating that the JHSS began to be published by the KU history department in 2010 under the editorship of former chairperson of the department Prof Dr Nasreen Afzal. “We, faculty members of the department, had been associated with this journal till 2013 as the sub-editors. But unfortunately, the journal was neither published on a regular basis nor according to the criteria set by the HEC,” reads one of those letters.

The three faculty members maintained in the letter that after the Jan-Jul 2013 issue, the publication of the journal discontinued. According to them, it was evident that the JHSS was issued to make some faculty members eligible for the next cadres and as soon as it acquired its objectives, it was stopped.

In one of the letters, they stated: “Considering the importance of the matter, we have written four letters [in 2018 and 2019] to the chairperson and editor-in-chief, requesting her to call a meeting of the editorial board so that the matters of its continuation and approval from the ASRB (Advanced Studies and Research Board) and HEC could be discussed accordingly. Unfortunately, all of our letters went unnoticed.

“However, it is rather quite surprising that as soon as the University of Karachi announced the faculty positions for the post of professor and associate professor, as many as ten to twelve issues of this journal surfaced online in May 2019 out of nowhere.

“It is evident that this was done in order to facilitate and favour specific faculty members by illegal and unfair means.”

A dissenting note

In 2019, then KU vice chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan constituted a committee to review all the journals being published from the varsity so that a final list of the approved journals could be sent to the Advanced Studies and Research Board (ASRB) of the varsity.

After the committee included the JHSS in its final list, Karachi University Teachers Society (KUTS) President Dr Shah Ali ul Qader, who was also a member of the committee, wrote a dissenting note in September 2020, against the inclusion of the JHSS on the list, stating that it was not an HEC-approved journal.

“The Journal of History and Social Sciences published by the Department of History is not included in the HEC-approved journals list. Most of the issues published by the journal are in the period of only one month [May 2019], which is [why it is] very unethical to use this journal for promotion and selection of associate professors and professors,” he stated in another note.

Along with the JHSS, Dr Qader also objected to the inclusion of the Journal of Mass Communication in the varsity’s approved journals. He stated that the journal was not an approved HEC journal (after the HEC implemented its revised policy for journals in July 2020) nor was it regularly published by the department, and hence, articles published in the journal should not be considered for the selection of associate professors and professors.

Offering clarification

When KU Dean of Education Prof Dr Nasir Sulman, who was the convener of the committee formed by the late VC Prof Khan, was asked why the committee had approved the JHSS and the Journal of Mass Communication, he said he would not like to comment on the matter in the holy month of Ramazan as he wanted to only worship during the month. He, however, stated that he would comment on the matter after Eidul Fitr.

Later, The News sent written questions to a KU spokesperson to know Prof Sulman’s viewpoint and official stance of the KU regarding the journals. The spokesperson also informed The News that the committee convener was not ready to comment.

Meanwhile, another senior member of the committee and former KUTS president Prof Dr Anila Ambar Malik, who had also decided in favour of adding the JHSS and the Journal of Mass Communication in the final list of the approved journals, remarked that the committee included the two journals in the approved list because many renowned professors had been promoted on the basis of their papers published in these two journals in the past.

“A majority of the committee members were of the view that those journals have been considered for promotions and selections in the past. This is why they should also be considered valid this time,” she added. She also maintained that the committee “evaluated these journals on the parameters which HEC also uses to evaluate journals for recognition.”

She, however, added that she and other faculty members believed that there were serious flaws in the HEC’s revised policy for journals and the criteria set by the commission did not treat all the fields of studies equally. She said the committee had added a number of journals to the approved list that were not recognised by the HEC.

Regarding the backdated articles in the JHSS, she said the committee was not supposed to check the content of the journals. “It was not our duty to check the content of the journals. The committee was tasked with reviewing the parameters of journals and adding them to the final list of the ASRB.”

When asked whether those backdated articles could be used for promotions, she replied that many renowned academics had been promoted as professors in the past via such journals being published by the KU and this would not be a new case if it happened again.