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UNI professor in discipline case accused of ‘long-standing pattern’ of research misconduct

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UNI professor in discipline case accused of ‘long-standing pattern’ of research misconduct

Aug 04, 2022 | 4:12 pm ET
By Clark Kauffman
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UNI professor in discipline case accused of ‘long-standing pattern’ of research misconduct
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The University of Northern Iowa campus. (Photo by University of Northern Iowa)

The University of Northern Iowa is defending its decision to discipline a professor who had previously been sanctioned for plagiarism.

Gayle Pohl, an associate professor and public relations instructor at UNI, is seeking judicial review of the school’s decision last year to discipline her for allegedly violating school policies on research.

According to newly filed court records, in 2012 UNI professor Christopher Martin identified six pieces that Pohl had published and which he believed contained examples of plagiarized content.

After an investigation, UNI’s provost determined in June 2014 that Pohl committed plagiarism with respect to a 2008 publication and a 2011 publication.

In late 2017, Martin filed another formal complaint against Pohl about a piece she had written that year. A few weeks later, Martin amended his complaint to include concerns about a 2013 article Pohl had written.

In his complaint, Martin alleged the 2017 piece was “rife with what the University of Wisconsin calls ‘patchwork paraphrasing’ … The 2017 book chapter by Dr. Pohl has widespread use of this kind of plagiarism.”

In January 2018, the school notified Pohl she was being investigated with regard to works that allegedly included substantial unattributed copying of text; a significant fabrication of a quote; and the possible misappropriation of intellectual property.

In response, Pohl noted that some of the allegations pertained to “self-plagiarism,” in which a writer incorporates elements of his or her own previously published works in a newly published work. She argued that she had authored the original source material that was the focus of the 2013 inquiry, and that “borrowing from herself” could not constitute research misconduct.

A ‘long-standing pattern’ of misconduct

The committee assigned to investigate the matter interviewed Martin, at which point it learned that Pohl “had been found responsible for research misconduct previously, for her works from 2008 to 2011,” according to court records filed by UNI.

Court records filed by Pohl’s lawyers indicate the committee completed a draft copy of its final report in November 2018, stating “although we do not find that Dr. Pohl committed plagiarism, we did find evidence of research misconduct … The committee believes the evidence from the 2017 publication in particular is indeed indicative that Dr. Pohl intentionally, knowingly and recklessly engaged in research misconduct. There has been a long-standing pattern of research misconduct going back to 2013 when she was found to have committed plagiarism. In that instance, the committee found that what she did was a violation, yet she continued to violate ethical standards in the current publications in question.”

In January 2019, the investigation committee issued its final report. According to Pohl’s lawyers, the committee concluded only that Pohl “engaged in the generic violation of ‘research misconduct.’”

Lawyers for UNI say the committee concluded that Pohl plagiarized herself in the 2013 article and concluded that the 2017 article had “too many errors” to be considered honest mistakes, such as multiple sections of text that included a mix of verbatim wording or paraphrasing or slight rewording; incorrect quotations; incomplete source citations; and content that did not match the original, cited source.

UNI’s provost then recommended the revocation of Pohl’s status as a graduate faculty member, meaning she would not be allowed to supervise graduate student research, and proposed that Pohl be barred from applying for promotion to full professor at least through the summer of 2024. He also deemed her ineligible to receive any kind of research award from UNI and recommended other sanctions.

Pohl challenged that action and in 2019, the matter went to arbitration. In 2021, the arbitrator sided with the university, and as a result, the UNI president implemented the provost’s recommendations.

Pohl appealed that action to the Iowa Board of Regents, which declined to review the matter in January of this year. That decision led to Pohl’s filing of the lawsuit that seeks judicial review of the school’s actions.

Pohl’s attorneys claim the generalized offense of “research misconduct” does not exist and they are challenging the decision to have the investigation committee consider the previous charges and discipline levied against Pohl.

“All members of the Investigation Committee should have been disqualified once they were made aware of Dr. Pohl’s past discipline,” the lawsuit states. “They were improperly motivated to find ‘research misconduct’ based on knowledge of past discipline.”

The university has denied any allegation of wrongdoing.