Professor Cleared of Plagiarism

A faculty review at North Dakota State U. found no basis for charges against a historian.
April 22, 2005

A faculty panel at North Dakota State University has cleared Claire Strom, an assistant professor of history there, of charges of plagiarism and "bogus citations" in her 2003 book, Profiting From the Plains: The Great Northern Railway and Corporate Development of the American West.

The panel found that while there were some minor mistakes in documentation, they were neither intentional, significant or unusual. The panel rejected the conclusions of a historian from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, whom the committee asked for an independent review and who said that the complaint had merit. But the committee said that it based its decision on university regulations, which explicitly exclude "honest error," unlike the standards the outside reviewer had used.

The allegations against Strom -- who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing -- became public last month in an unusual series of events. Suzzanne Kelley, a graduate student who worked with Strom and who filed the complaint against her, tried to get the university to turn over some e-mail messages about the case, and when the university balked at her full request, she appealed to North Dakota's attorney general. His ruling in the case ended up making it public.

The university released the faculty committee's review of the matter Thursday, noting that it normally would have done so only if a violation had been found, but that it was going public to clear Strom's name since the charges had been publicized.

The faculty panel stressed that the outside reviewer from Nebraska -- John Wunder -- had used the standards of the American Historical Association, which the North Dakota State panel noted includes the following statement: "Plagiarism includes more subtle and perhaps more pernicious abuses than simply expropriating the exact wording of another author without attribution. Plagiarism also includes the limited borrowing, without attribution, of another person's distinctive and significant research findings, hypotheses, theories, rhetorical strategies, or interpretations...."

Based on that policy, Wunder found 14 instances of what he called "bogus citations" and 5 instances of plagiarism. But the North Dakota State panel found that these were only "minor honest mistakes" and that they did not constitute academic misconduct.

The committee noted that it applied not the AHA's standards, but the university's own. North Dakota State's definition of academic misconduct includes this sentence: "It does not include honest error, or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data."

Based on the faculty committee's review, the university plans no additional action.


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