Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Letter to Higher Learning Commission

I am trying to figure out if The Higher Learning Commission is serious about enforcing its criteria for accreditation, so I sent a letter to K.L. Solinski, the Commission's Vice President for Legal and Governmental Affairs. I asked Ms. Solinski a number of questions so that I can obtain an understanding of just how serious they are when it comes to accrediting a university that awards degrees to cheating students and then lies about its relevant policies.

Here's a little background:

On February 28, 2006 K.L Solinski wrote to Ohio University President McDavis asking him to explain among other things, "how it [Ohio University] handles allegations of plagiarism within its community."

On July 21, 2006 John Burns, former Ohio University Director of Legal Affairs, responded to the Ms. Solinski with a letter and a copy of the letter that was sent to cheating students.

On September 18, 2006 Ms. Soliski wrote to me stating that John Burns "responded with a thorough explanation," and she concluded the inquiry into my complaint.

About a year later, I discovered that, contrary to the procedure outlined by John Burns, Ohio University was not actually requiring students to re-write plagiarized sections. On March 21, 2008 I wrote another complaint letter to The Higher Learning Commission about this. My letter went unanswered.

On April 9, 2009, I wrote to President McDavis asking him to hold accountable the professors who violated his re-write policy. I copied K.L Solinski on the letter.

On May 4, 2009, the Commission acknowledged "potential accreditation issues."

On June 17, 2009 John Biancamano, Ohio University Director of Legal Affairs, wrote to me and stated that there was "no basis for further investigation or disciplinary action against these individuals [the professors who approved the re-written theses with extensive deletions and plagiarism]." In other words, Mr. Biancamano and President McDavis confirmed that professors are allowed to violate the re-write policy they provided to the Higher Learning Commission.

On September 3, 2009 John Biancamano wrote to K.L. Solinski to provide an update on Ohio University's plagiarism situation. The letter states once again that cheating students would re-write plagiarized theses. He does not mention that some are permitted to delete plagiarism instead of re-writing it.

President McDavis and John Biancamano are talking from both sides of their mouths. They have consistently and repeatedly told the public and the accreditors that cheating students are re-writing plagiarism when in fact some are not.

There is a major difference between re-writing and deleting. After all, Ohio University revoked one student's degree for plagiarism. Why didn't they just let him delete his plagiarism like they did for the others?

Ohio University is in blatant violation of the Higher Learning Commission's Accreditation Criterion One which includes: "The organization upholds and protects its integrity." Hopefully, K.L. Solinski will give me straight answers to my questions and start holding Ohio University leaders accountable for deceiving the public and the Commission.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I just came across your blog and found it quite interesting. I'm a part time French instructor and have come across many incidences of plagiarizing during my seven years as a new professor. However, I was curious to know what you think of a doctoral student who plagiarized in a dissertation draft and was expelled from the university because of it? Does it seem a bit harsh to call for the student's expulsion? Why not a re-write? After all it was just a draft.
Best, T

Tom Matrka said...

In response to the above comment, expulsion does sound harsh for plagiarizing in a draft. However, I would ask, does the university have a clear and consistent policy regarding plagiarism? Do all of the professors expel all students who plagiarize in a draft, or was this one student subject to different standards?

That is my big problem with Ohio University; the enforcement of the rules seems to change on a case by case basis. They took action against two professors who allowed plagiarism, but others were let off the hook. It is also interesting to note the opposite extreme at which Ohio University operates; I have found numerous dissertations with with page after page of verbatim plagiarism but not one doctoral degree has been revoked. In many cases, these cheaters are now professors at other universities.

Do you think the person who was expelled will check the works of other students and professors to confirm whether or not they were held to a different standard?

Thanks for your comment.

Bookworm said...

Your blog is fascinating and reminds me of the book ProfScam. Have you considered writing a book based on your blog? Last year’s hit movie Julie & Julia (starring Meryl Streep) was based on a blog, so why not a book (exposé) about yours? As for market potential, in addition to the general public, there are about a half-million professors in the US (with more abroad) and likely many would read it with fascination!

Edward Eckel said...

Dear Mr. Matrka,

I am an engineering librarian at Western Michigan University. I recently became interested in the issue of engineering plagiarism at the graduate level both after the incidents you uncovered at Ohio and some incidents we had here at WMU. I recently completed a paper on using Google to find plagiarism in engineering master's theses in the Proquest Dissertations and Theses database. What I found was quite interesting. Right now the article is in review at the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. I can send you a copy if you like.

I'll keep reading your blog. I wish I had seen it before I sent my article off, I would have cited it.


Ed Eckel
Engineering Librarian
Western Michigan University

Tom Matrka said...

Dear Mr. Eckel,

Thank you very much for your comment on my blog. I would be very appreciative if you would send me a copy of your article you mentioned on detecting plagiarism.

I am also interested in your thoughts about a WMU physics professor who plagiarized extensively in his Ohio University doctoral dissertation. Dr. Asghar Kayani graduated from Ohio University in 2003 and he is now a professor at WMU.


I reported the plagiarism in his dissertation to Ohio University legal affairs last August, but his dissertation remains available in Proquest and the OhioLink electronic thesis database.


This case is very important for a couple reasons. First, how can we trust Dr. Kayani to properly teach the students at WMU if he is willing to cheat himself? Second, Ohio University appointed Dr. Kayani's advisor, Dr. Ingram, as the chairman of the hearing committee charged with judging the cases of plagiarism I have reported. How can we trust Dr. Ingram to judge plagiarism when he let his own student publish page after page of copied material? A few weeks ago I provided the highlighted plagiarism in Dr. Kayani's dissertation to Ohio University's provost in an effort to persuade her to reconsider Dr. Ingram's appointment. The letter and highlighted dissertation (Enclosure#1) are on my blog: http://ohiouniversityplagiarism.blogspot.com/2010/01/letter-to-provost.html .

You mentioned "incidents at WMU." I assume those involved were held accountable. If my assumption is correct, then I think WMU has an obligation to act on the evidence of plagiarism by one of their professors. What are your thoughts?

Thanks again for your comment,

Tom Matrka

Professor X said...

Tokyo University researcher stripped of doctorate for plagiarism

Brian Manhire said...

Asleep at the Seal

Brian Manhire said...

Professor sacked for academic plagiarism

The news article above reminds me of the Ohio University plagiarism scandal and the foreign-culture rationale (excuse) that some claim explains it. For example, here’s a comment that appeared in the Post (OU’s campus newspaper):

“What's also very, very important (and ignored by The Post at every opportunity) is that most instances of plagiarism result in a difference between international standards of plagiarism. Elsewhere, it can be acceptable to perform the acts of plagiarism found on OU theses. It's just boilerplate introduction text, right? At least, that's how they see it. That doesn't signify malice, just a lack of understanding of our customs.……”

But both the article above about a fallen professor at Xi'an Jiaotong University in China and the one about another at the University of Tokyo (provided by Professor X on March 6) contradict this rationale; and surely plagiarism is verboten throughout all the world’s universities (which is not to say that plagiarism isn’t a serious problem abroad nonetheless).

Some of my international friends and colleagues are offended by opinions like the one I’ve quoted above, which can also be found at other U.S. universities. Here’s a recent example:

“Loschiavo [assistant dean of students and director of the student conduct office] said there are a variety of circumstances in dishonesty cases that determine punishment. Sometimes students can have explanations for unintended plagiarism, he said, such as international students who have different standards for citing sources. ‘To jump to a suspension in these cases seems unfair,’ he said.”

Cheating rarely draws stiffest punishments

As for unintended plagiarism (mentioned in the quote above), see:

SIU's unintentional plagiarism concept as contrived sophistry?

Brian Manhire said...

Here’s another example (from abroad):

Plagiarism and PhDs: how to deal with copying

Brian Manhire said...

And another …

Lecturer Stripped of Doctorate by ITB for Plagiarism

Brian Manhire said...

The following story reminds me of the WMU predicament revealed by way of the Eckel-Matrka commentary above:

AUSTRALIA-SA: Plagiarising academic loses job twice

And the following WSJ article describes a similar situation at Miami University of Ohio (and other examples like this can be found elsewhere on this blog):

Familiar Words: Student Plagiarism Stirs Controversy at Ohio University

And then there’s the apparently unresolved CMU/OSU matter:

OSU professor accused of plagiarism at previous job

National Science Foundation Grant Plagiarism Investigation: Trouble with the CONCEPT project at CMU

Also, there’s an organized effort (VroniPlag) now underway in Germany to expose plagiarists there.

The Whiff of Plagiarism Again Hits German Elite

"Plagiarism hunters" plague German politicians

Finally, one may wish to contemplate “The [original] Plagiarism Hunter” and “Amanda’s Dilemma” in light of all this.

The Plagiarism Hunter

Amanda’s Dilemma

Brian Manhire
Professor Emeritus
Ohio University