Saskatchewan·CBC Investigates

U of R engineering professor found guilty of plagiarizing student's work

U of R engineering professor Shahid Azam has been reprimanded by Saskatchewan’s engineering association for plagiarizing the work of one of his master’s students.

Shahid Azam reprimanded for professional misconduct by engineering association

University of Regina engineering professor Shahid Azam refutes accusations that he plagiarized his former student's master's thesis. (CBC)

University of Regina engineering professor Shahid Azam has been reprimanded by Saskatchewan's engineering association for plagiarizing the work of one of his master's students.

A December 2016 report by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS) says the evidence shows Azam published an academic paper but "failed to acknowledge the contribution of [co-author and student Arjun Paul] to the submitted academic paper." 

In 2014, Azam published the article in the journal Environmental Geotechnics. When Paul saw it, he complained to the journal and APEGS, alleging his professor had plagiarized his work.

While APEGS' report doesn't use the word 'plagiarism,' it does conclude Azam "is hereby reprimanded for professional misconduct," because he failed to give credit where it was due.

Paul said this ruling is proof that his complaint was justified.

"It feels really good," said Paul.

He said he worked hard on his master's thesis and Azam's actions really hurt.

"Claiming a false claim and taking my work — that makes me stressed," said Paul.

Journal withdrew paper

APEGS isn't the first body to have raised concerns. 

Following an investigation in 2014, Environmental Geotechnics decided to withdraw the paper after concluding Azam "had not fully credited Arjun Paul's thesis."

Also in 2014, CBC's iTeam did a side-by-side comparison of Azam's article and Paul's master's thesis, and found they were 24 per cent identical.


Arjun Paul: 'Statistical modelling for tailings consolidation using index properties' (U of R master's thesis, December 2011)

Shahid Azam: 'Study on large strain consolidation of mine waste tailings' (ICE Publishing, February 2014) 
Overall, the variability in the index properties of the tailings was attributed to the variable solid-liquid interactions. Derived from the geological background (mineralogical composition of the solids) and the mining operation. (Pg. 48, par. 1)Overall, the variability in the index properties of the tailings was attributed to the variable solid–liquid interactions. Derived from the geological background (mineralogical composition of the solids) and the mining operation. (Pg. 51, par. 3)
The above consistency limits depend on the type of water used during testing, but data on the water composition in the literature were not available for all of the materials. Generally, the consistency limits are highest for deionized water, followed by distilled water, and then by decant water. (Pg. 47, par. 1)Although water composition data were not available for all of the materials, the above consistency limits depend on the type of water used during testing. Generally, the limits are highest for deionised water, followed by distilled water, and then by decant water. (Pg. 51, par. 1)
Consistency limits for sedimentary clays covered a wide range due to the presence of various clays. Sesquioxide coating of clays and dominance of non-clays resulted in lower liquid and plastic limits for residual soils. Higher consistency limits for oil sand tailings were due to residual bitumen that imparts thixotropy and lubrication. (Pg. 76, par. 1)Consistency limits for sedimentary clays covered a wide range due to the presence of various clay minerals. Sesquioxide coating of clays and dominance of non-clays resulted in lower liquid and plastic limits for residual soils. The relatively high limits for oil sand tailings were due to residual bitumen that imparts thixotropy and lubrication. (Pg. 54, par. 2)

Edward Eckel, a researcher from the Western Michigan University who has published papers on plagiarism involving engineering master's theses, said Azam's behaviour clearly meets the definition of plagiarism.

CBC reached out to Azam for comment but he declined.

Azam admitted guilt but offered explanation

According to the APEGS report, Azam agreed he committed professional misconduct, but he offered a caveat.

"The member, through counsel, acknowledged guilt, with an explanation to the effect that the complainant's [Paul's] contribution was not significant and therefore the normal protocol for academic writing would not require co-authorship or similar acknowledgement," the report says.
Edward Eckel is a professor at Western Michigan University who has published papers examining plagiarism involving engineering master's theses. (Western Michigan University)

Eckel said Azam's claim is "silly" and "unacceptable." 

"No one gets to rewrite the rules of academic protocol for academic writing. You are supposed to cite sources regardless," said Eckel.

"So the idea that he could just say, 'Well, the complainants' contribution was not significant and therefore I didn't need to cite him or require co-authorship' ... this guy has a lot of gall."

Azam's explanation to APEGS for his behaviour is similar to what he told CBC's iTeam in 2014. 

He said the reason there are so many similarities between Paul's thesis and his own paper is that Azam, in effect, wrote some of Paul's master's thesis himself. 

He went further, claiming Paul would have been unable to write parts of that thesis because he didn't have the technical writing skills necessary.

"None of the alleged material in the disputed paper reflected Paul's original writing, ideas or thoughts because he was heavily dependent on me in all of these areas," Azam said.

Paul defends academic record

Paul didn't respond to Azam's criticism when CBC broke the story back in 2014. He said he knew Azam's claims were false but he decided to remain silent until the professional association had completed its review.
Arjun Paul says he feels vindicated by APEGS' finding that Azam committed professional misconduct. (LinkedIn/Arjun Paul)

Now, Paul said Azam is critiquing his ability in order to save face. 

He said his master's degree from the U of R refutes Azam's claim.

"Absolutely not true. It can't be right because I graduated from a very renowned university," said Paul. 

He also pointed out he's now working as a professional engineer. 

Eckel said by questioning Paul's abilities, Azam is harming his own reputation. 

"He basically indicts himself as an adviser and as a professor and as a mentor in the department," said Eckel. "It's like he's blaming his student but he's also revealing his own department and degree program to be shoddily managed." 

Azam is 2nd guilty U of R prof

Eckel said it's surprising to note that Azam isn't the only U of R professor to have been found guilty of plagiarizing his student's work. 

In 2014, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta found U of R professor Ezeddin Shirif guilty of submitting an article to an academic journal without giving credit to his master's student who was the lead author. 

"Dr. Shirif knew that [his student] was the author of the paper and failed to ensure that full credit was given to the complainant," said the report, which was published in the association's winter 2014 magazine.

The association also found Shirif guilty of failing to co-operate with the investigation and "failing to provide a substantive response to the complaint."

Shirif did not reply to CBC's request for an interview.

Both Shirif and Azam continue to work at the University of Regina.

Eckel said that is telling. 

"The fact that both of these people are still employed there despite such blatant copying simply leads one to believe that the system is designed to kind of protect the people in power, which means these professors. Because if a graduate student had done this, they probably would have had to leave the program," he said. 

CBC asked the U of R for comment on Azam's case. 

In a written reply, the university said it "takes all allegations of academic and scholarly misconduct very seriously." 

But it pointed out that because of provincial privacy legislation and the collective agreement with professors, "the university is unable to disclose information about disciplinary proceedings." 


Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001. Email Geoff at