Mexican Supreme Court Justice of the Nation Minister Yasmin Esquivel. Photo: Google

By KELIN DILLON

As Mexican Supreme Court Justice of the Nation (SCJN) Minister Yasmin Esquivel’s controversial academic plagiarism scandal continues to unfold, it seems the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has found its culprit in the contentious affair – Martha Rodríguez Ortiz, Esquivel’s advisor on the purportedly plagiarized thesis, who was subsequently fired from her decades-long faculty position at the university on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Esquivel was originally alleged to have plagiarized the thesis of her fellow UNAM student Edgar Ulises Báez back in 1987, an accusation which Esquivel vehemently denied upon the scandal’s recent rise to the surface despite UNAM’s staff finding multiple similarities between the two former students’ respective theses.

While Esquivel’s case has bounced between UNAM and the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) across recent weeks, UNAM – who had already opened disciplinary hearings against Rodríguez Ortiz earlier this month – has decided to take further action against the former thesis advisor rather than impart punishment upon the SCJN minister.

“We have the express confession of the thesis director of having shared and provided the thesis project of one student to another,” said UNAM at the time. “We found serious lapses of responsibility and a lack of probity and honesty.”

Though UNAM as an institution may have made a decision on the case, a number of the university’s staffers have spoken out in favor of holding Esquivel accountable for her purported plagiarism. 

In a joint statement, 33 of the university’s researchers, academics and workers asked UNAM’s Commission of Honor and Justice of the University Council to intervene in the “criminal manner” in which Esquivel allegedly obtained her law degree – the very degree that allowed her to rise to the top of the Mexican judicial system.

“We demand that the university principles be complied with and that the title of Bachelor of Law that was criminally obtained by Mrs. Yasmín Esquivel de Riobóo be withdrawn, that all the people who intervened in this fact be investigated and that the corresponding university sanctions be applied to them,” read the statement. 

“One of the functions of the UNAM is the dissemination of culture,” continued the statement. “For this reason, by not taking charge of the situation that concerns them in the face of these events, we must ask ourselves if what they want to spread is the culture of illegality.”

According to the group, the university failing to find Esquivel culpable puts “the credibility of all the titles issued by our alma mater at risk, which could be the subject of doubt and speculation. We must strengthen national confidence in the work of UNAM, not allow situations of this nature to tarnish the honest and responsible exercise of a profession.”

While UNAM General Attorney Alfredo Sánchez Castañeda claimed the university does not “have the necessary mechanisms” to annul Esquivel’s law degree, the 33 UNAM academics refuted Sánchez Castañeda’s stance, questioned the university’s autonomy and suggested the matter be resolved by the federal public administration instead. Meanwhile, Esquivel has announced that she will not resign from her post at the SCJN, saying she has “nothing to be ashamed of” while continuing to maintain her innocence in the ongoing plagiarism scandal.

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