Mexican Supreme Court Minister Yasmín Esquivel. Photo: scjn.gob.mx

By MARK LORENZANA

The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has already officially notified Mexico’s Public Education Secretariat (SEP) regarding the case of alleged plagiarism by Supreme Court Justice Yasmín Esquivel of her undergraduate thesis, according to Interior (SeGob) Secretary Adán Augusto López Hernández.

López Hernández spoke to the media from Huatulco, in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca — where he was monitoring the progress of the roads damaged by Hurricane Agatha with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) — on Saturday, Jan. 14. He said that the SEP was already “analyzing the case.”

“The UNAM has already notified the Public Education Secretariat. The SEP is already doing the analysis. I don’t know if they have finished it, but they are already studying it,” López Hernández said. He, however, refused to comment when asked by the press if Esquivel should resign from her post as a justice on the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN).

“I cannot comment on that. They are going to accuse me of not respecting the autonomy of the powers. It involves the judiciary, and it is a matter of the judiciary,” said López Hernández.

Esquivel had previously been in the running for the post of presiding magistrate for the SCJN, which eventually went to Norma Lucía Piña Hernández. Esquivel’s chances were effectively hampered by the plagiarism scandal against her.

On Dec. 21, UNAM academic Guillermo Sheridan wrote an article, which was published in the online news portal Latin US, of Esquivel’s alleged act of plagiarism. In the article, Sheridan detailed the similarities of Esquivel’s 1987 thesis to the thesis of Edgar Ulises Báez Gutiérrez, which was submitted to the UNAM faculty of law a year earlier.

“I therefore consider that the intern Yasmín Esquivel plagiarized in its entirety the thesis of (Edgar) Báez Gutiérrez. This means that Esquivel’s thesis should be invalidated, as well as her professional law degree, which is ill-gotten, since it was achieved by deceiving the UNAM, her colleagues, the people of Mexico who financed her studies and, of course, herself,” wrote Sheridan.

Sheridan, who titled his article “An intern minister: Yasmín Esquivel, candidate to preside over the SCJN, plagiarized her undergraduate thesis,” wrote that he believes Esquivel “is not a graduate: she is an intern, and that can only change if she returns to the university to present a new and honest thesis.”

At the time the news broke, López Obrador immediately came to the defense of the embattled justice, saying that he’d rather be wrong about Esquivel, rather than agree with Sheridan.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, López Obrador criticized the UNAM, and even accused its rector, Enrique Graue Wiechers, of “washing his hands, like Pontius Pilate.”

While the UNAM’s Faculty of Higher Studies (FES), in a written statement, had already determined that there was substantial evidence that plagiarism had taken place, Graue Wiechers said in his own written statement that “the university regulations lack the mechanisms to invalidate a degree issued by the UNAM, even when plagiarism of a thesis is documented.”

Instead, the UNAM decided to sanction Esquivel’s thesis director at that time, Martha Rodríguez Ortiz.

However, according to Roberto Lara Chagoyán, a research professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey University, in an interview with Mexican financial daily El Financiero, UNAM was wrong in saying that the university “lacks the mechanisms to invalidate a degree that it issued.”

“UNAM is wrong to say that it lacks powers. It may be that there is no expressed norm, but that does not mean that it lacks powers,” Lara Chagoyán said. “Whoever has the powers to determine the creation of an institutional act, also has the powers to determine its legal consequence, which is nothing other than nullity.”

“The UNAM can grant a title and it can also take it away, but not a professional license… the SEP is the only one that issues professional licenses,” Lara Chagoyán further said.

“When the case is passed on to the SEP, the SEP can just say, ‘We have no problem with the license.’ Let’s hope that the SEP says that a requirement for the issuance of the professional license has not been met.”

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