May 23, 2024
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The Bullying College Professor

Q: Dear Rabbi Hoffman.

I have a question regarding deception and possible theft. There is a college professor who engages in a strange type of bullying toward his students. These students are PhD researchers. He approaches them with an idea to collaborate. At the end of the conversation, he says, “You will add my name to the paper as a co-author, correct?” Essentially, what is happening is the student does all of the research, and he gets much of the credit. If the student gives him some pushback, he responds, “I will help edit it and it was my idea.” On the rare occasion that he does edit, it is a grammar edit through Word’s grammar recommendations, and he may not even read it. What are the halachos of this practice in terms of sheker, lying? Is it considered gezel, theft, as well?

A: Wow. Who knew? At first, one would think that this is a debate between the author of the Machane Efraim (responsum CM 49) who writes that it is a violation of theft and hasagas gevul, boundary infringement, and the Maharam Shick (responsum YD 156) who writes that it is forbidden because of midvar sheker tirchak, keep a distance from lies, and gneivas daas, intellectual theft. He does not write that it is forbidden on account of biblical theft. Both of them are, of course, discussing the theft of Torah chiddushim, innovations. However, after some research, it seems that there is something called an H-Index or the Hirsch Index, which may also make it full-fledged theft even according to the Maharam Schick, depending upon whether it affects the professor’s personal H-Index. The H-Index is a metric that takes into account how many articles a person published and how many times it is cited by others. (A score of 20 is good; 30 is exceptional, and 40 is super exceptional.) Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l wrote a responsum (Igros Moshe CM Vol. I #30) that cheating, in effect, steals from a student’s future employer since that employer assumed he earned his grades and passed his courses honestly. Since people in the science fields are often hired by their H-Index, this may be theft as well. But clearly, it is forbidden to do so and is considered anathema in the eyes of Halacha.


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