She was popular in the classroom. She had taken students on a service learning trip to Guatemala over last winter break, and had brought some to the University of Oxford to meet with professors. She was working on an oral history project with World War II veterans. But there was a problem with her credentials.
Jaclyn LaPlaca taught history at Marywood University, in Pennsylvania, for the last academic year, and Rod Carveth -- a colleague who began last fall at the same time as LaPlaca -- said she had already distinguished herself.
"Looking at new faculty who made a mark, it was her," said Carveth, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication Arts. "She was a very nice person. She always struck me as someone who played things close to her vest, and now I understand why."
LaPlaca's problems began during the 2002-3 academic year, while she was doing work for an Oxford graduate degree. Oxford revoked LaPlaca's master's degree and booted her from a doctoral program for plagiarism, according to Ronald Daniel, an Oxford official. (LaPlaca could not be reached for comment, but she has said previously that she earned her Oxford degrees.)
A short period later, she began work as a faculty member at Kent State University's Stark campus. LaPlaca provided Kent State officials with a certificate from Oxford stating that she was on her way to receiving a Ph.D., said Gayle Ormiston, associate provost for faculty affairs and curriculum at Kent State. Daniel, of Oxford, said that the university had asked LaPlaca to return the certificate after expelling her.
According to the Daily Kent Stater, the Kent State student newspaper that broke the story this summer, LaPlaca told the college that she had defended her dissertation and was waiting for faculty approval.
According to Carveth, after she left Kent State abruptly for Marywood, someone at Kent State called Oxford to inquire about LaPlaca's credentials. Oxford then explained the situation to Kent State. By this time, LaPlaca was no longer employed there. Ormiston said the college considered the matter closed and, on the advice of its legal counsel, did not share the information with outside parties, including Marywood. But the student paper eventually found out.
This summer, officials at Marywood learned of the story through the newspaper article, Carveth said. Barbara R. Sadowski, interim vice president for academic affairs at Marywood, said only that LaPlaca resigned in July for personal reasons. Carveth said that none of LaPlaca's associates had expected her to leave.
Carveth said neither he nor his colleagues have heard from LaPlaca since August. LaPlaca had been accepted as a fellow at Wolfsonian-Florida International University, a design museum in Miami. But after learning of the Oxford situation, the museum sent a letter informing her that the offer had been rescinded, according to a Florida International official.
Ormiston, the Kent State associate provost, said the college is in the midst of reviewing its hiring practices as a result of the incident.
"This is one case out of thousands of faculty where the background check didn't come through," Ormiston said. "We didn't confirm the certificate with Oxford. We didn't wholly check the references, who may have shed some light."
Ormiston said the fact that Oxford provides certificates, not transcripts, which are common in Europe, complicated the reviewing process.
Andy Brantley, chief executive officer at College & University Professional Association for Human Resources, said it's important for colleges to be clear with a new hire's previous employer about what information is needed. "The most critical thing is to check the credentials for every person hired," he said. "In a situation like this, there has to be a clear process."
Carveth, who blogged about the incident, said if not for the online newspaper article, LaPlaca would likely still have a job. Rachel Abbey, the student newspaper reporter at Kent State who wrote the piece, said students at Marywood have had a mixed reaction to the news of LaPlaca's resignation, based on their postings on the online version of her article.
"Half the people are upset that she got through [the screening process] and feel fooled, but others still feel she was a good interactive teacher," she said.
Carveth is of a similar mind. "She was a very good teacher and doing interesting research," he said. "But getting a tenure-track job at a four-year institution is like finding the holy grail. Lots of talented people are trying to piece together a career, and she hurt those people by getting her job fraudulently."