West Liberty University employees and students are waiting anxiously to see how the Board of Governors responds to several instances of plagiarism by W. Franklin Evans, president of the public university in West Virginia.
Faculty members have been hesitant to speak out against the president due to fear of reprisal, said Darrin Cox, a history professor at the university. It took a week for the Faculty Senate to send a letter to the Board of Governors after determining that the president plagiarized in at least four public speeches.
Still, faculty members want to address the issue somehow. The Faculty Senate sent a questionnaire to all faculty members Friday to gauge how they wanted to proceed. Some, including Cox, have called for Evans’s resignation. Others are asking the Faculty Senate to hold a vote of no confidence in the president’s leadership.
“I believe that President Evans should resign in an effort to demonstrate that he takes this matter seriously and to demonstrate that he is at least trying to be a man of integrity. He has a PhD and should know better, so any claims of ignorance are misleading,” Cox wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed.
Robert Gall, a philosophy and religion professor at West Liberty, wants the faculty to take action. Ignoring the issue would be unfair to students, he said.
“If our faculty don’t stand up and say something about this, we’re basically saying to our students that there’s a double standard — that they are held to a very strict standard of no plagiarism, and the president nonetheless can get away with it.”
Students are worried about the scenario Gall presented — that they would be punished for plagiarizing while leadership is excused for the same offense.
“Today, I am ashamed to be a student at West Liberty University,” Alexandria Black, vice president of student government, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “This university will now be faced with many student plagiarizing cases and they should not be allowed to remove any student for this since the board chose to look past our president for the exact same issue multiple times.”
Faculty members recognize that if the board doesn’t address plagiarism by the president, it will be difficult to enforce policies that prohibit it among students.
“These plagiarism incidents have the potential to impact internal classroom discipline, making it difficult to enforce academic integrity,” the Faculty Senate executive committee wrote in a letter to the Board of Governors. “Some faculty expressed concern that this can also influence consideration given to West Liberty University for future grants and contracts, and may damage relationships with alumni and donors.”
Rich Lucas, chairman of the Board of Governors, said Oct. 4 that the board stands behind the president and believes Evans’s plagiarism was an oversight. On Wednesday, he released an amended statement.
“The West Liberty University Board of Governors is not ignoring the problem and we will address this matter in the appropriate manner, at the appropriate time, at the next Board of Governors meeting,” Lucas wrote. The next board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 13.
Evans also released a broader public apology Wednesday. Previously, he had only admitted to plagiarizing in a convocation speech that he gave Sept. 15, and he insisted that the incident was “in no way indicative of a pattern, or a ‘bigger picture.’”
“I regret my lack of attribution in any speech or presentation that may have been given. It was never my intent to give the impression that those were my exact words, and I failed to identify where the material came from. For that, I am sorry. I will make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Evans wrote in the new statement Wednesday. “I want the best for West Liberty University, its students, staff and faculty. My goal is to continue serving the university in the manner expected by the Board of Governors.”
The plagiarism scandal may be impacting the university in other ways, as well. Shortly after news of the plagiarism broke, a candidate for the open provost position withdrew from the search, Gall said. Asked whether the candidate dropped out of the search because of the plagiarism issue, a spokesperson for the university said in an email that “West Liberty University doesn’t comment on personnel matters involving candidates who have applied for positions and/or their personal comments.”