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Rector apologises in Penkowa case

Ralf Hemmingsen now admits in media for the first time that he, personally, made mistakes in the Penkowa case. Critics dismiss his apology

»I want to state emphatically that the University of Copenhagen has not, in this or in other cases, protected fraudulent scientists. However there are things that I personally could have done considerably better.«

These are the words of University of Copenhagen Rector Ralf Hemmingsen in an op-ed article in the Danish daily Politiken Tuesday. It is the closest he has yet come to admitting own mistakes in connection with the Penkowa scandal.

Milena Penkowa has been given a three month suspended sentence for fraud and is charged with forgery and scientific dishonesty in a case that continues to rock the University of Copenhagen and the Danish scientific and political community.

Read our guide to the case: Penkowa for dummies.

Sorry for student’s case

In the piece, the things Rector writes he could have done better include, »as a representative of management, of having less of an eye for Milena Penkowas formal CV and more of an eye for whether she was a role model for other scientists, when she was recommended for the Elite Researcer Prize«.

Ralf Hemmingsen upheld her nomination for the Ministry of Science’s DKK 1 million prize in 2009 even though he knew she was involved in a police case. As former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and subsequently Rector, Ralf Hemmingsen presided over university decisions that turned out to Penkowa’s advantage, right up until her 2010 suspension.

Rector says he is sorry for the situation surrounding the examination of Penkowa’s original dissertation, and for the »long and exhausting process, that a student had to go through in connection with the case«.

Impressed by calls to stand down

Ralf Hemmingsen says that he has considered his future at the University of Copenhagen, an institution that undeservedly has been connected to general accusations of research fraud, nepotism and dishonesty.

He says that he is »aware that some believe that I should stand down from the Rector position. This makes an impression on me«.

»But as Rector I see it as my responsibility to stand up and take responsibility for all the tasks that are part of leading a large university. These tasks also include a case like this«, he writes.

Critic: »Not written to us«

In the op-ed piece, Rector Ralf Hemmingsen does not mention the calls for an independent investigation from a large cross-section of the Copenhagen scientific community. A new petition, this time by 200 PhD students has seen the light, adding to a previous petition for an independent inquest with 500 signatures on it.

Professor Elisabeth Bock, who took the initiative on one of the petitions, says to media that Rector’s acknowledgement of his mistakes has come too late in the process. Another signatory, Niels Højby. is even more biting in his criticism of Rector’s op-ed to news agency Ritzau:

»This is written to the politicians and the Board. It is not written to us. He wants to show the powers that be, that it is a good thing that he stays on the job, so he can keep all the large projects at the University going«.

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