Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed
Henry Stoever, president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, has resigned abruptly amid allegations of plagiarism.
Stoever allegedly plagiarized part of a column he wrote for Trusteeship magazine, a publication put out by AGB, according to a news release the organization shared. After learning of the allegations last month, AGB conducted an investigation, which “found that the framework and content in the column were used without appropriate attribution,” according to the news release. It went on to note that Stoever “accepted responsibility for this action.”
The column in question was subsequently removed from the AGB website.
“Moving forward, AGB will re-evaluate its editorial standards, policies, and procedures for verifying that all written work published by AGB is original to the author and contains appropriate attribution for the work and ideas of others,” Beverly Seay, chair of AGB’s Board of Directors, said in the news release.
With Stoever out, AGB has elevated Ellen Chaffee to the role of interim president. Chaffee, a senior consultant and senior fellow, according to AGB’s website, is a former president of Valley City State University and Mayville State University and has held various other posts in North Dakota.
An Abrupt Exit
The column that upended Stoever’s tenure at AGB was part of the “My Agenda” series appearing in the July/August issue of Trusteeship. In his 678-word column, “Harnessing the Impact of Board Members’ Expertise,” Stoever described a four-step process for channeling “the power of diverse boards composed of committed, passionate experts,” according to a copy of the since-deleted article available on the Internet Archive.
It was not immediately clear what part of the column was not properly attributed.
In response to questions from Inside Higher Ed, AGB officials indicated that the investigation into the plagiarism incident was complete. “The AGB board of directors began an investigation shortly after” the allegations were first made, a spokesperson confirmed by email.
Stoever—a former marketing executive who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Marine Corps—joined AGB in 2019 and led the organization for a little over four years.
(Stoever did not respond to a request for comment from Inside Higher Ed.)
AGB has not set a timeline for finding its next permanent leader. Stoever’s departure comes as AGB Search—an arm of the organization—navigates a conflict in Florida, where state officials have raised concerns about a voluntary survey used in the search for the next president of Florida Atlantic University. On Friday the Florida Board of Governors voted to ask the state attorney general to weigh in on the legality of the preference survey the search committee used to rank applicants for the job.
AGB Search officials have defended the use of the survey. Meanwhile, the FAU search has been suspended since July.
High-Profile Plagiarism Incidents
Plagiarism remains a persistent problem throughout higher education. Students are constantly warned about the consequences of academic dishonesty, up to and including expulsion. And the advent of generative AI is raising new red flags for faculty, who worry that they can only do so much to police student work.
But plagiarism is hardly limited to undergraduates. Numerous college presidents have been caught up in plagiarism scandals in recent years, often resulting in their resignations.
In 2021, mere months into the job, West Liberty University president W. Franklin Evans was found to have plagiarized several speeches, prompting a no-confidence vote from the Faculty Senate and censure by the WLU Board of Governors. While the board narrowly voted against firing Evans, his contract was not renewed when it came up for a vote last year.
Gregory J. Vincent resigned as president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2018 after an anonymous tipster alleged that he had plagiarized part of a 2004 dissertation while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Vincent kept his doctorate after revising the dissertation.
Also in 2018, Andrea Lewis Miller, then president of LeMoyne-Owen College, was accused of plagiarizing well-known televangelist Joel Osteen in a speech welcoming incoming students. She said at the time she overlooked the attribution while delivering her speech. Miller, who was subject to an unrelated faculty vote of no confidence, did not have her contract renewed in 2019.
Back in 2007, Glenn Poshard, then president of Southern Illinois University, was accused of plagiarizing sections of his doctoral dissertation, which he completed in the 1980s. A university committee ultimately declared the plagiarism to be inadvertent and recommended that he amend his dissertation. Poshard continued as SIU’s president until 2014.
Teddi Fishman, a higher education consultant and former director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, said it is unclear how common plagiarism is among higher ed administrators, adding that academic dishonesty over all is difficult to track accurately.
Fishman noted a spectrum of consequences for those caught in plagiarism scandals.
“I would not say that there are typical responses; they range from having the person issue an apology and a retraction and considering it water under the bridge, to having to resign from that position. And usually where it falls in that spectrum is a function of how much the plagiarism was related to the position that you’re supposed to be in,” Fishman told Inside Higher Ed.
Essentially, if someone publishes plagiarized content on a topic that is central to their expertise or position, it is more damaging than if it were on a topic less relevant to their job, she said. In Stoever’s case, the topic of working with governing boards was directly related to his role as head of AGB.
Fishman noted that plagiarism occurs for a multitude of reasons, but a common excuse for those caught in the act is that they lacked either the time or the knowledge to do the work themselves.
The way organizations—and individuals—respond to plagiarism accusations is important, she said. When an official resigns amid such allegations, as Stoever did, it sends a message about how seriously organizations take such matters.
“It’s a really good sign,” Fishman said, “because it means we still care.”