Friday, July 14, 2006

Plagiarism in MS theses at Ohio University

Ohio University has a problem. It has to figure out how to deal with past graduates who earned master's degrees on the strength of theses later found to contain plagiarized material. Only a handful of U.S. legal cases deal with the right of a college to revoke a degree after it is granted, and Ohio University has to be careful in entering this uncharted legal territory. In Europe, one recalls Konstanz had no trouble stripping Jan-Hendrik Schon of his Ph.D. degree, for behavior UNRELATED to his thesis work.

In a report released on Monday, July 10, two professors in the Mechanical Engineering Department were sanctioned for their involvement. The problem, however, goes back 20 years, and involves as many as 55 theses.


On July 20, 2006, the AP reported:

Most of the 37 Ohio University engineering graduates accused of plagiarizing parts of their master's degree research projects have agreed to rewrite their reports, the school said Thursday.

Twenty of the graduates who received letters last month from the school informing them that copied sections of their theses had been discovered opted to revise the questioned portions rather than appeal.

By agreeing to rewrite their theses, the graduates have acknowledged their projects contained "problems," spokesman Jack Jeffery said. Those terms were included in a letter sent to the students.

Two former students will challenge the allegation before a hearing board.

The AP report did not address the "as many as 55 theses" number which appeared in previous reports. The AP report does not elaborate on the meaning of "problems," which might mean merely that the M.S. theses in question failed to credit sources for background material. In the discussion of the Laurence Tribe matter, this might fall into the realm of "historical facts."

Of the remaining 15, AP stated -->

Thirteen graduates did not reply by July 14 - the deadline university lawyer John Burns set in his June 30 letter. Most of those live abroad and will be given until the end of July to answer, Jeffery said.

Another two remain uncertain about how they will respond, he said.

One notes that 14 days is not a lot of time to respond.


The AP reported on the professors involved -->

A committee appointed in March by Provost Kathy Krendl reported that rampant and flagrant plagiarism occurred in the program for more than 20 years. The committee recommended in May that department Chairman Jay Gunasekera and one other professor be fired.

Gunasekera has since stepped down as chairman. He remains a professor but has been stripped of his role as a graduate student adviser. He has hired a lawyer to fight allegations that he allowed the cheating to happen.

John Marshall, Gunasekera's lawyer, has maintained his client was not at fault. What the university is calling plagiarism was students copying information leading up to their research, he said last month.

"None of the so-called plagiarism had anything to do with the originality of the research," Marshall said.

Jeffery said much the same Thursday. The university has only found plagiarized material in introductory chapters to the 37 theses, not in research results, he said.

If Jack Jeffery is correct, then this does look like a variant of "historical facts." However, one notes that the OU response of requiring re-writing is much more aggressive as to punishing plagiarism than the responses found in either the Tribe or Coulter matters, which amounted to "so what?"


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