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Gregory Vincent

Courtesy of Talladega College

Talladega College on Wednesday named Gregory Vincent, who in 2018 stepped down as president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges after an anonymous tip accused him of plagiarism, to be its next president. Vincent will take up the helm of the private, historically Black college in Alabama on July 1.

Vincent, who currently works as a professor of educational policy at the University of Kentucky, resigned as president of Hobart and William Smith after he was accused of plagiarizing sections of his dissertation. Vincent left prior to an investigation into the matter in order to “avoid any further stress to the campus community,” he said in a statement in 2018.

He subsequently made several changes to the literature review of his dissertation and received a stamp of approval from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, where he completed his Ph.D.

“I resolved the issue with the University of Pennsylvania to the satisfaction of the faculty,” Vincent said. “There were some errors and changes to citation style—that was what the issue really was. I was asked to change one citation for another, and the faculty determined that my work made an original contribution and allowed me to go forward.”

Vincent completed his dissertation in 2004, 13 years before he became president at Hobart and William Smith. The Talladega College Board of Trustees was aware throughout the search process of the plagiarism and Vincent’s effort to correct it, a college spokesperson said. The board viewed his current employment at the University of Kentucky as a good sign that he is a qualified academic and noted that the “errors were in the literature section of his dissertation and not the substance of his research,” the spokesperson said.

“The Search Committee was impressed with Dr. Vincent’s proven record of exceptional leadership and the measurable results he achieved in public service, business, and academia, as well as community and civic organizations,” Rica Lewis-Payton, trustee and chair of the search committee, said in a statement. “Dr. Vincent is uniquely qualified to meet the current challenges facing Talladega College and best position the institution to be among the best institutions of higher learning in the country.”

It’s typically the job of the third-party search firm to ensure that the board has all the relevant information to make a decision, said Rod McDavis, managing principal at AGB Search, and so it’s unlikely that Vincent’s departure from Hobart and William Smith was glossed over during the search process.

“Issues like this are always of concern to a search committee and to a board of trustees. What they ask the search firms to do is to do the due diligence, do the background check, do the investigation and bring back the facts,” McDavis said. “I’m confident that the Talladega College Board of Trustees had all the information they needed.”

College and university officials are held to ever higher standards as they ascend the ranks of leadership, said Sarah Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and expert on academic integrity. An attribution error or missed citation can be a problem for presidents, even if a faculty member or graduate student would be forgiven for the same mistake.

“In the past 10 years or so, we’ve come to see plagiarism quite differently when it’s committed by public figures—especially by university officials, politicians and others,” Eaton said. “We’re more likely to forgive a freshman for accidental plagiarism than we might be a senior or a graduate student. We expect graduate students might know better, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they still need writing support and support with understanding the expectations of academic integrity.”

Vincent said he’s excited to join Talladega this summer and eager to move the college forward. He believes his many years as a faculty member will earn him credibility among the Talladega faculty.

“I have done an excellent job. I teach Ph.D. students, serve on dissertation committees—I do all the things faculty do,” he said. “I believe they see me as one of them—as a fellow faculty member who has been a faculty member for well over 20 years.”

The fact that Vincent owned up to the mistake and corrected it is commendable, Eaton said. Vincent could use his experience as a good example for students.

“The fact that he made restitution—I think it’s significant and symbolic because it shows that he cared enough to go back and right the wrongs that had been committed, whether they were intentional or unintentional,” she said. “It shows that students can make a mistake and it doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. A mistake doesn’t have to follow them for the rest of their life.”

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