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West Liberty president plagiarized in several speeches

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West Liberty University faculty members recently accused University President W. Franklin Evans of plagiarizing multiple sources in several public speeches and presentations.

Evans, who became president of West Virginia Public University in January, first angered faculty and students for plagiarism in his fall convening speech on September 15.

“During convocation, several faculty members were looking at each other and saying that some things didn’t seem quite right,” said a West Liberty faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. “People started to google during the convocation speech – the professors and the students, from what I saw – and, in short, people started reading.”

“Here are five other tips I want to share with you,” Evans told the students during the speech. He then expanded on each of them: “always go to class”, “be proactive about your college education”, “focus on networking”, “take care of your mental health” and “pay attention to your college education”. ‘money “.

Five days later, Evans sent a note to university employees and students explaining that he had not correctly attributed the advice to Robert Farrington, a personal finance writer and author of the Forbes article “5 tips for first-year college students [sic] to help maximize the first year.

In a recording of the speech on the college’s website, the captions contained quotes, but Evans did not quote the original author verbally during his speech.

“It’s a failure on my part,” Evans wrote. “However, this error is in no way indicative of a pattern or a“ bigger picture. ”It was simply an oversight, and for which I apologize.

Faculty members soon discovered that this was not a one-time offense. They found that several of Evans’ other speeches and presentations contained language from articles online. The president plagiarized multiple sources in a speech he gave on June 10, ripping entire passages from the Smithsonian website, an op-ed in the News from Déseret, a New York Times article and a LitCharts study guide for Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. In a presentation for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Evans cited an unattributed author and drew lines from an NPR article.

The faculty’s Senate, which represents all of the university’s faculty, met on September 24 to determine whether the president had indeed plagiarized the speeches.

“It was on Zoom. You could pretty much see that some people were looking at him clearly for the first time, and the jaws were dropping. They didn’t know it was that bad, ”the faculty member said.

In one instance, at an event in Flushing, Ohio, Evans began his talk on Juneteenth by giving a history of the party, taken almost verbatim from the Smithsonian website without any attribution.

“On Freedom Eve, or the eve of January 1, 1863, the first Watch Night services took place. That night, slave and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country, awaiting news of the Emancipation Proclamation coming into effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all slaves in the Confederate states were declared legally free, ”the website said.

Evans’ words were almost identical.

“On January 1, 1863, the first Watch Night services were held and that night, slave and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country awaiting news of the entry. effective emancipation proclamation, ”Evans said. “At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered and all the slaves of the Confederate States were declared legally free. “

In the same speech, Evans recited almost in its entirety an editorial by Greg Bell, president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association. By reciting a passage from the editorial published in the News from Déseret in 2017, Evans ruled out an attribution to another source that Bell himself had included. Evans changed the order of some lines in the editorial and replaced some words with synonyms, but even so, the use of the editorial without attribution remains plagiarism, according to Sarah Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and expert. on academic integrity.

“It’s a special type of plagiarism, where people take words, often names, and exchange them for a synonym using a thesaurus,” Eaton said. “If I write the word ‘small’ and you replace it with the word ‘small’, well, those are still basically my words. “

The 21-minute speech on June 10 also contained the language of a New York Times American Battlefield Trust article and article on vacations, as well as entire passages from a LitCharts study guide for the book The new Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, the faculty found out.

A side-by-side comparison of Evans' words and text from a New York Times article.

In a keynote address by Evans at a Belmont County Martin Luther King Jr. Day NAACP event in 2021, he recited a quote from Doug Williford, an American author, without crediting him.

“If my wife comes to me with obvious pain and asks me the question ‘Do you love me? “, An answer” I love everyone “would be true, but also hurtful and cruel at the time. If a coworker comes to me upset and says, “My father just died,” a “Everyone’s parents are dying” response would be true, but also hurtful and cruel at the time, “Williford wrote. “So when a friend speaks out in a time of obvious pain and suffering and says, ‘Black lives matter’, an ‘All lives matter’ response is true. But it’s hurtful and cruel at the time.

Evans recites the passage almost verbatim, but made no mention of Williford and suggested that he offered the analogy on his own.

“Those who lack the sensitivity to understand the Black Lives movement, here is my attempt to enlighten you,” Evans said. “If my spouse comes to me with obvious pain and asks ‘Do you love me?’ and the answer I give is “I love everyone”, that would be true, but also hurtful and cruel at the time. If a co-worker comes to me and says, “I’m upset because my father has just died,” you know that an “all parents die” response would be true, but hurtful and cruel in the moment. So when a friend speaks out in a time of obvious pain and suffering and says “Black lives matter,” a “you know, all lives matter” response would be true, but it is hurtful and cruel in the moment. . “

After police officers killed George Floyd in May 2020, Williford’s words were included in several posts on the Black Lives Matter movement. Rob Putaansuu, the mayor of Port Orchard, Washington, quoted the quote in his June 10, 2020 post. Peter Ndoro, a broadcast reporter, underlined the quote in a tweet on June 23, 2020. Charles Harley – the assistant athletic director of facilities at Landon School, a private boys’ school in Bethesda, Maryland – used the passage in a school magazine article, although he didn’t also not attributed to Williford.

A side-by-side comparison of Evans' words and the text of a National Public Radio article.

Rich Lucas, chairman of the board of governors at West Liberty University, acknowledged Evans’ plagiarism in a statement Monday and said “the board believes this is a oversight by Dr Evans.”

“It has come to my attention and that of the Board of Governors that Dr. W. Franklin Evans, President of West Liberty University, did not correctly attribute the original authors in his recent speeches,” Lucas wrote. Dr. Evans apologized to the faculty and vowed that in the future he would be more diligent in assigning appropriate attribution when writing his speeches.

Lucas also reiterated his support for Evans as president of the university.

“There are many important issues that all universities across the country are facing right now. The WLU Board of Governors believes that Dr Evans is the right person to lead and develop WLU now and for our future, ”he wrote.

West Liberty’s Academic Dishonesty Policy for Students defines plagiarism as “the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of another person’s published or unpublished work without full and clear acknowledgment. It also includes unrecognized use of material prepared by another person or agency engaged in the sale of sessional assignments or other academic materials.

Students found plagiarizing may be subject to a disciplinary hearing which could result in a warning, suspension or expulsion, among other disciplinary measures.

While plagiarism policies for students are fairly common at academic institutions, there are fewer written rules for college and university employees, Eaton said. Sometimes rules against plagiarism appear in research integrity and ethics policies, but few such policies exist for staff and administrators.

“The reason may be an underlying assumption that we expect faculty and administration to know better already,” she said. “If someone is plagiarizing in a way unrelated to research – like an opening speech or a public speech – many institutions actually don’t have policies and procedures about it, at the exception of a code of conduct. So it can be quite difficult if an institution has never faced this before. “



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