March 30, 2007

OU Revokes Degree in Plagiarism Case

By Rachel Hoag

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

The university, which announced Wednesday it stripped the degree, started reviewing papers required for advanced engineering degrees last year after a graduate student reported to administrators that he found copied passages in mechanical engineering theses and dissertations while doing research using archived theses in a university library.

The university, which barred two professors who oversaw many of the theses from advising graduate students, checked more than 200 mechanical engineering papers for cheating. Some of the papers were selected randomly from among 1,500 submitted to Ohio University's Russ College of Engineering and Technology since 1980, and the university used computer programs to compare them with papers that had similar titles or departments, checking for duplications in the texts.

Russ College Communications Director Colleen Girton said the school wasn't aware of any other universities that undertook such 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.

The only other student discipline resulting from the review has been requiring 12 graduates 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.

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

"It's a final university decision," Girton said. "The only recourse that he would have would be a personal legal case."

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