March 28, 2007

Degree Revoked Over Cheating Allegations


COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio University revoked the master's degree of a mechanical engineering student accused of using others' work in a thesis, the most severe action yet in a review of dozens of research papers, the school said Wednesday.

The university would not identify the student or give details about the questioned portions of the thesis, citing academic privacy laws.

The student appealed after being notified of the university's plan in February, but Provost Kathy Krendl denied the appeal.

The university said it was finishing up a sweeping review of dissertations and theses it started last year after a graduate student reported to administrators that he found plagiarized passages while doing research using archived theses in a university library.

The school, which barred two professors who oversaw many of the theses from advising graduate students, checked 180 mechanical engineering papers for cheating. Some of the papers were selected randomly from 1,500 submitted since 1980 to the school's Russ College of Engineering and Technology. The university, in Athens in southeast Ohio, used computer programs to compare them with papers that had similar titles or departments, checking for duplications in the texts.

Colleen Girton, a spokeswoman for the engineering college, said the school undertook rigorous steps to root out plagiarism, and a Rutgers University professor specializing in academic dishonesty agreed.

"I don't know of any other school that has gone to such great lengths to identify cheating," said Donald McCabe, who helped Ohio University officials design their review process.

Twelve graduates were required to rewrite all or parts of their theses that contained minor infractions, such as improper citations of others' work, university spokeswoman Sally Linder said. A decision to strip someone's degree means the student went beyond improper citation by being intentionally deceptive and knowingly using plagiarized information in a thesis, she said.

Officials said 38 cases are pending. Since very few of the theses pulled from the random sample were flagged for possible cheating, the university will not expand its review unless further allegations arise, Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin said.

"We have remained committed to due process - for the documents, authors and faculty involved ... while creating the country's best system for dealing with the issue. Any other documents discovered will be subject to the same scrutiny," Irwin said.