Board Investigates President Vincent

By Ryan Skinner ‘19

Staff Writer

On March 21, while students were enjoying Spring Break, a bombshell struck HWS. An anonymous email signed by “A Professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges” was sent to Professor Scott Brophy, Professor Tom Drennen, Professor Steve Penn, and senior officials at the University of Pennsylvania as well as news agencies such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The email, which has been obtained by the Herald, alleges that President Gregory J. Vincent ’83 committed plagiarism during at least six passages between pages 11 and 44 of his 2004 dissertation. “I do not know if this list of instances of plagiarism is exhaustive,” the anonymous source wrote, but, “the repeated pattern of direct quotation of long passages without proper attribution indicates the intentional violation of norms of academic integrity.” The faculty was informed of these allegations on the evening of March 27 and the Chronicle of Higher Education first reported this story on March 28, which is how most students learned about the allegations, although the administration did not make any sort of statement to the student body until March 29. The Chronicle of Higher Education verified that President Vincent copied two sentences from Universities and their Leadership. Later, Inside Higher Ed confirmed three of the allegations, specifically demonstrating that he had used the same language found in American Apartheid.

The email accusing President Vincent, if sent by a member of the faculty, ignores a 1995 amendment to the faculty handbook. A selection of the amendment states: “The faculty herewith repudiates and disavows the sending of anonymous ad hominem letters to the faculty as a whole or to individual members thereof. It considers that such communications carry with them the inherent risk of harmful and gratuitous insult to individual faculty members and therefore to the faculty as a whole. Such risk far outweighs any possibly valid purpose – political or recreational – that might conceivably be served by preservation of authorial anonymity.” The email flouts this resolution not only by sending it to the faculty, but to members of the press.

An email from Thomas Bozzuto ’68, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, suggested Vincent, “believes the claims are without merit.” The Herald did reach out to Mr. Bozzuto. He did not answer any of our specific questions, but emphasized that, “We do, of course, understand the strong desire to know more about this issue. However, the Board of Trustees currently is in the middle of fully and fairly evaluating the allegations. As soon as we have concluded, we will be communicating with the community as quickly as we can.”

Mr. Bozzuto and Cynthia Fish ‘82, the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, attended a faculty meeting on April 2 to issue an update on the investigation. Mrs. Fish confirmed their attendance, but declined to offer details on the meeting, writing, “HWS Board Chair and I did speak in a faculty meeting yesterday.  Cathy Williams, Vice President for Communications is working to keep the HWS community informed and updated.  Please expect to hear more as soon as statements are available.”

The Herald has independently verified each of the six allegations made by the anonymous email. We have been able to ascertain that in the six passages of the dissertation questioned by the email — and even on other pages not critiqued by the email — President Vincent copied what was written in other books verbatim and without quotation marks. In some cases, he used parenthetical citations to give credit to these authors, in other cases he did not, and in some sentences he misattributed credit to completely different authors. Whether or not this constitutes plagiarism is a subject that may be debated, but it appears that in at least fifty-four sentences, President Vincent failed to indicate that he was copying other scholars word for word. These verbatim sentences were often continuous and sometimes dominated entire pages of his dissertation. The Herald had to travel to libraries at Cornell University to gain access to Land Grant Universities and Extension, The Spirit of the Land-Grant Institutions, and Reclaiming a Lost Heritage, so our access to these books was time-sensitive and it is possible we did not find all the sentences that could be studied for plagiarism.

First, on page 13 of President Vincent’s dissertation two sentences were nearly a facsimile of page 219 of Universities and Their Leadership with neither quotations nor citations giving credit to Daniel Kevles for his chapter.

Second, on page 26 President Vincent reproduced four sentences verbatim from page 74 of American Apartheid with parenthetical citation crediting Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, but without quotations.

Third, from pages 42-44 of his dissertation President Vincent copied at least nineteen sentences from pages 59-61 of “An Experimental Approach to Creating an Effective Community-University Partnership.” During one of these paragraphs he parenthetically cited the author, Kenneth Reardon, during another he cited no one, and during the remaining two paragraphs he credited an entirely different book: William Goldsmith’s Fishing Bodies Out of the River: Can Universities Help Troubled Neighborhoods? While replicating his paragraphs, President Vincent also removed the citations Reardon had originally attached to credit other academics for their work.

Fourth, from pages 11-12 of his dissertation President Vincent replicated nine sentences from page 16 of George McDowell’s Land Grant Universities and Extension with the sixth of these sentences including a parenthetical citation for McDowell.

Fifth, from pages 22-23 of the dissertation President Vincent reproduced three sentences from page 11 of William Jasper Kerr’s The Spirit of the Land-Grant Institutions, but he cites Edward Eddy’s The Development of the Land-Grant Colleges and Universities and their Influence on the Economic and Social Life of the People. Kerr is cited in other parts of the dissertation and included in the bibliography.

Sixth, the anonymous email was correct that pages 20-21 of Vincent’s dissertation appropriates the same language used in page nine of John Campbell’s Reclaiming a Lost Heritage. In fact, the anonymous source seemingly did not notice that President Vincent also copied sentences from pages 10, 13, 14, 21, and 23 of Campbell’s work, which leads us to believe the compilation of sentences suspected for plagiarism by the anonymous email is not all-inclusive. Our investigation determined that pages 20-22, page 23, and page 24 of the dissertation contained at least seventeen sentences that were copied from Campbell. Some of these sentences cited Campbell, but others were either not cited or attributed to John Brubacher and Solomon Rudy’s Higher Education in Transition: A History of American Colleges and Universities.

When asked what the repercussions would be if the plagiarism is confirmed by the official investigators, Professor Steve Penn, the Chair of the Committee on Standards, said, “The charge is serious, so if it is verified there will be serious implications and it is the responsibility of the community that if it is found that there is no merit that we put this behind us… The charges should be taken seriously, but someone should not be judged prematurely, prejudiciously, and if they are acquitted that should not influence the interaction or impression of them going forward. People get falsely accused all the time.”

In an email to the students on April 4, Mr. Bozzuto revealed that the University of Pennsylvania had begun its own investigation into President Vincent’s dissertation. The Herald had previously asked Pam Grossman and Kat Stein, the Dean of Penn Graduate School of Education and the Executive Director of Penn Graduate School of Education Communications, respectively, about whether the University of Pennsylvania was undertaking an investigation into this matter and what the potential ramifications might be. Neither responded to our inquiries.

President Gregory Vincent ’83 submitted a statement to the Herald.  This is the first time he has publicly addressed the allegations:

“As my dissertation advisor recently confirmed, I had to change the citation style within a very short period of time after my committee approved the dissertation, which led to inadvertent errors in how some of the work was quoted and paraphrased. I deeply regret the extent to which this has caused confusion or misled anyone. I eagerly await the findings of the investigation. In the meantime, I have remained focused on my duties as president and on moving the Colleges forward.”

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