University of Alberta's identity stolen by fake California institution

A fake university in Irvine, Calif. has stolen the University of Alberta's identity.

Website for California South University claimed its president is Justin Trudeau

The website of a fake California university has stolen the history and reputation of the University of Alberta. (University of Alberta)

A fake university in Irvine, Calif. has stolen the University of Alberta's identity.

The now-inactive website for California South University claimed the institution's campus "consists of 150 buildings covering 50 city blocks." Similar wording is used on Wikipedia to describe the U of A's North Campus in Edmonton.

The CSU website also stated "39,000 students from United States and 150 other countries participate in 400 programs in 19 faculties" — again, just like a description of the U of A on Wikipedia, if you swap the U.S. for Canada. 

But those similarities aren't a coincidence. The information on the CSU website was stolen from the U of A.

So were some of the campus names. The CSU website said the university has "five distributed campuses including, in addition to the North Campus, two auxiliary satellites: Campus Saint-Jean in southeast Edmonton, and Augustana Campus in Camrose."

The website for the fictitious California South University said it has five campuses, including Campus Saint-Jean in Edmonton and Augustana Campus in Camrose. (California South University)

Most of the content on the website was plagiarized from the U of A's Wikipedia page — not exactly demonstrating the academic integrity post-secondary institutions try to promote.

The plagiarism is near-verbatim, only with the words "Edmonton" and "Alberta" replaced with "Irvine" and "California." The plagiarizers didn't bother to swap out the word "province" for "state," meaning California is often referred to as a province.

The website was taken down Thursday night.

Scamming academics

William Grover, an assistant professor in bioengineering at the University of California, Riverside, alerted the U of A to the fictitious university in December.

He said he first heard of California South University when the institution emailed him, asking for money to have his research published.

"These are what they call predatory journals, where the journals, it's a bit of a scam," Grover said. "It really exists just to try to get you to pay money to get your paper, your research published in those journals."

The California South University website was taken down on Tuesday. (California South University website)

Predatory journals and websites "prey on the publish-or-perish attitude in academia," he said. The papers are rarely subjected to careful review, and are posted online.

Grover lives near the imaginary campus, and Googled it out of curiosity.

These are what they call predatory journals, where the journals, it's a bit of a scam.- William Grover, professor,  University of California, Riverside

"I'm thinking, 'I've been living here and working here for years. How have I never heard of this?' " he said.

Of course, that's because it doesn't exist. A search for the university on Google Maps comes up empty.

Grover, whose wife graduated from the U of A in 2000, said he realized the university was an imposter when he saw the site mentioned the Butterdome, an Edmonton landmark nicknamed for its butter-yellow colour.

The California South University website claimed the Edmonton Butterdome, the nickname for Universiade Pavilion, is part of its campus.

"New buildings completed in the early 1980s included the Business Building and the first phase of the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre," the CSU website read.

"Another new building, the distinctive Universiade Pavilion (nicknamed the "Butterdome"), was completed as part of the university's preparations to host the World University Games in 1983."

All of those buildings are in Edmonton, not California.

"Anyone who's ever been to the U of A campus would recognize that," Grover said.

But the international scholars targeted by predatory journals might not, he added.

Grover contacted the U of A with the hope that it would get the website taken down.

The U of A did not respond to a request for comment, but a Feb. 27 blog post from the institution said the website was removed after "the U of A made a number of requests to the site's service provider to have the website removed."

However, it was back up and running until Thursday.

'Notable figures' include Justin Trudeau

In addition to staking a claim on Edmonton architecture, CSU also associated itself with some noteworthy individuals.

Apparently Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was looking for some extra work, because CSU claimed he's its president.

Less notable is professor Annie Danny, but that's probably because she doesn't exist.

"Annie Danny" is one of the faculty members that was listed on the fake university's website. (California South University website)

A reverse image search of the picture associated with Dr. Danny's bio turned up what appears to be a stock photo. The fictitious professor's bio also appears to be a direct rip-off of Canadian author Margaret Atwood's Wikipedia page.

They claimed another professor works for the Los Angeles Maple Leafs hockey team. That can't be right.- William Grover, professor,  University of California, Riverside

"Their faculty profiles are ludicrous," Grover said with a laugh. "They claimed that your Prime Minister Trudeau is the president of the university in one place. They claimed another professor works for the Los Angeles Maple Leafs hockey team. That can't be right."

CBC News was unable to confirm why CSU chose to associate itself with an imaginary hockey team instead of the Edmonton Oilers, but perhaps it has something to do with the standings.

Even the scandals are the same

In addition to theft of history and reputation, CSU also slapped its name on some U of A "scandals."

"In 2011, the school's dean of medicine resigned after plagiarizing much of his graduation address," the CSU website read.

That actually happened at the U of A, and led to the resignation of the dean of medicine and dentistry.

"In 2012, the University's psychiatry department chair was placed on leave before officially beginning his duties after allegations emerged of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient," the website also stated.

Again, that happened at the U of A, when the head of psychiatry faced an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a patient in Ontario.

CBC News attempted to reach CSU through the number listed on the website. No one picked up the phone.

About the Author

Anna McMillan

Journalist

Anna McMillan is a reporter, web writer and associate TV producer at CBC Edmonton. anna.mcmillan@cbc.ca