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Ohio University revokes master's degree
Student found guilty of plagiarism

ATHENS, Ohio (March 28, 2007) -- Ohio University has revoked the master's degree of a former mechanical engineering student whose thesis contained plagiarism.

This is the first degree revocation resulting from the university's review in spring 2006 of engineering and technology theses and dissertations after a former student suspected plagiarism in documents he was researching. 

"Revoking a degree is the very last resort for an institution of higher education," Provost Kathy Krendl said. "We have put rigorous processes in place, and we are taking the results of those reviews and hearings seriously. We cannot tolerate plagiarism."

When the alleged plagiarism was first brought to light, three committees reviewed 55 documents. The Russ College of Engineering and Technology examined the documents, and then a provost-appointed committee affirmed the results and made recommendations. A third committee of faculty and students from various disciplines acted as a grand jury.

Finally, documents with suspected plagiarism were forwarded to the university's judicial system (for current students) or a hearing committee (for former students). Final adjudication is still underway.

To make certain that any other problems were uncovered, more than 180 additional theses and dissertations also underwent examination. These included the rest of the theses and dissertations from the two faculty who advised many in the original 55; several dozen that the current dean and another faculty member volunteered for review; additional documents that came into question; and an analytical sample of the rest of the engineering and technology theses and dissertations dating back to the 1980s.

The final adjudication process continues. Of the original 55 documents, the hearing committee has recommended five dismissals, 12 rewrites and the degree revocation. The committee will hear nine more cases and review seven others spring quarter. Those seven could require additional hearings.

Of the additional 180 theses and dissertations examined, 22 will be prepared formally for the hearing committee. Of those, 11 were by students whose advisers were the two faculty members who had advised a majority of the documents in the initial 55. Eight were by students whose advisers were two faculty members no longer at Ohio University. Three were from the analytical sample of past theses and dissertations.

"The analytical sample results are what would be expected for this particular test and sampling approach," said David Koonce, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at Ohio University. Koonce designed the test after consulting with others, including Rutgers University's Donald McCabe, a recognized expert in academic dishonesty who has surveyed more than 150,000 students on their academic conduct. 

"Because the outcome is below our threshold of rejection for the sample, I see no need to investigate further," Koonce added.

"I don't know of any other school that has gone to such great lengths to identify cheating," McCabe said of the analytic sampling methodology Ohio University used.

The Russ College will examine any other documents that are brought to light in the future. "We have remained committed to due process -- for the documents, authors, and faculty involved -- and federal privacy law while creating the country's best system for dealing with this issue," Dean Dennis Irwin said. "Any other documents discovered will be subject to the same scrutiny."

Amidst the initial accusations and ongoing adjudication, the Russ College developed new processes and engaged students and faculty to create a culture of academic honesty. 

The college began using software to check for duplication in new theses and dissertations, hired an academic honesty advisor, and created student and faculty honor councils. The college also will complete a draft honor code -- including faculty and student responsibility statements -- by the end of the academic year. Many universities take several years to develop such codes.

"The right decision may not always be the popular decision," Irwin said. "I credit our students, faculty, staff, advisory board and alumni -- and my dean colleagues across the country -- for sharing their support, ideas and energy during what has been a very challenging time," he added. 

All of the theses and dissertations that Dean Irwin advised have been reviewed and cleared. 

Over the past several years, the university has implemented a host of other culture-changing initiatives to promote academic honesty across the campus at large.

The university is currently engaged in litigation with the two faculty implicated in the cases already reviewed.

"Academic honesty is at the core of our mission. We have held ourselves to a very high standard in responding to the challenges we have faced," Provost Kathy Krendl said. "Our goal is to emerge from this process as a national model of academic integrity."

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Media Contact: Acting Senior Director of Media Relations Sally Linder, 740-597-1793 or linders@ohio.edu

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