Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another university president accused of plagiarizing his Ph.D. thesis

In 2007, IPBiz noted a report in the Birmingham News: Jacksonville State University officials are investigating other newspaper columns that appeared under the byline of school President William Meehan after a second instance of plagiarism was brought to their attention..

On 22 April 2009, WAAY-TV reported: A strange accusation against the president of Jacksonville State University.

President William Meehan is being accused of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Alabama.

A lawsuit claims that he copied part of another professor's work around the time he became JSU president in 1999.

Jacksonville State says no substance has been found in the charges, and no action by the university will be taken against him.

Such an accusation would parallel that against Glenn Poshard of Southern Illinois University, who ultimately was found to have inadvertently plagiarized portions of his Ph.D. thesis. In the Poshard case, there were assertions that the charge of plagiarism was politically motivated, although evidence of plagiarism was present.

Previous IPBiz post:

More academic plagiarism

**An AP story gives further detail. The "thesis plagiarism" charge arises in the context of a civil suit against Meehan by one R. David Whetstone, relating to biological samples. Presumably, the "theft" of words in the past would establish a pattern, relating to the assertion by Whetstone. The text below shows another similarity to the Poshard case: both Ph.D. theses were on remarkably "light" topics. From AP (JAY REEVES):

The allegations about his dissertation are meant to bolster claims in a civil lawsuit accusing Meehan, a former biology teacher, of wrongly seizing a collection containing some 55,000 plant samples from professor R. David Whetstone.
Donald Stewart, an attorney for Whetstone, filed arguments Friday about Meehan's 118-page dissertation in an attempt to show Meehan has a habit of taking academic work done by others. Stewart argued that Meehan's dissertation was copied from one completed three years earlier by Carl Boening at the University of Alabama.

Boening wrote about applications for sabbatical leaves by University of Alabama faculty from 1986 through 1996. Meehan wrote about the same topic, but looked at what happened at Jacksonville State from 1988 through 1998.

Meehan credited Boening in his paper, saying his study "replicated the investigation conducted by Boening." Rather than just citing some of the same articles and studies as Boening, Meehan in places used wording that was almost identical to Boening's.

In one section, Boening wrote about the work of researcher J.S. Fairweather: "Fairweather concluded that faculty and administration must deal with the enormous emphasis placed on research and the rewards tied to it before achieving a re-emphasis on teaching."

Meehan wrote: "Fairweather concluded that faculty and administrators must deal with the enormous emphasis placed on research and rewards tied to it before achieving a reemphasis on teaching."

Boening said in an interview Wednesday that there are "striking similarities" between his 127-page paper and Meehan's, but he declined to say whether he considered it plagiarism.

"Obviously, since it is my work that has been allegedly plagiarized, I can't be neutral in any assessment," said Boening, chairman of the division of behavioral studies at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa.

Jonathan Bailey, runs the Web site, was hired by Whetstone to review the papers and concluded that "extensive portions" of Meehan's dissertation were plagiarism of Boening's work.

Bailey, who is not an academic, analyzed the two papers using a computer program that looks for similarities in writing. He submitted a report claiming 38.7 percent of the second chapter in Meehan's paper was copied from Boening's.

Both the Meehan case and the Poshard case involve allegations of copying related to discussion of PAST work, which issues also arose in the Ohio University plagiarism scandals. One of the most serious examples of plagiarism in the Poshard thesis came on page 54, wherein Poshard copied from a book to summarize the state of prior art. In the Alabama case, there is an overlap of the timeline between Boening and Meehan. In the Poshard case, text from a summary of older work was "extrapolated" (ie, copied) to describe a later time period.

Although these events come to the public eye in the context of plagiarism, they separately indicate the fluffiness of content of some Ph.D. theses. There really is "no there there."


Patty Vaughn, in an article titled: Lawsuit claims JSU president copied thesis noted the underlying present legal issue:

A biology professor at JSU, David Whetstone, is suing Jacksonville State for ownership of several plant specimens in a JSU herbarium. (...)

The case about the herbarium, which has been ongoing since 2003, came about after Meehan acquired many of the plants in the school herbarium. Whetstone claims the plant specimens are his.

“He [Whetstone] thinks many of the specimens that have been collected that reside in the JSU herbarium belong to him,” Hobbs said.

Of the plagiarism: As a new twist in the case, Whetstone’s attorney has brought up new plagiarism charges about Meehan’s dissertation that he wrote at the University of Alabama in 1999, drawing comparisons between that and another dissertation that was written in 1996 by a student.

According to a statement from JSU, “President Meehan has been clear from the beginning that he used Mr. Boening’s dissertation as a spring board for his own, and Meehan’s dissertation duly credits his predecessor’s work.”

In the separate Poshard case, Poshard did mention the source of the work which he copied onto page 54 of his Ph.D. thesis. The problem was he didn't have a footnote to it on page 54, or anywhere near page 54. A reasonable reader would not have known that text on page 54 was copied from somewhere else. Similarly, in the Laurence Tribe matter, the copied source was mentioned "somewhere" in Tribe's book, just not on the page with the copied text. Again, a reader would not have known the copying occurred.


Post a Comment

<< Home