The University of Virginia recently stripped Fred D. Smith of his doctorate in education. Last year, iThenticate was utilized by a reporter from the Journal News to break a story on Smith, the ex-Pocantico Hills superintendent who plagiarized much of his UVA dissertation.
Smith’s plagiarism saga began in November 2009, when he suddenly resigned as the Pocantico Hills superintendent after it was discovered that he had copied newsletters from a Massachusetts elementary school principal. The Journal News then partnered with iThenticate to discover that large portions of Smith’s dissertation from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education were also plagiarized. From the Journal News: “…iThenticate, found numerous passages that matched academic publications predating his. The most notable similarities were with a paper by Jerri Ann Whitehurst Hall, now a high school principal in Rutland, Georgia.”
A dissertation is meant to display the culmination of an individual’s knowledge in a specific area of study. A dissertation positions a person as a candidate for a degree – in Smith’s case a PhD in Education from UVA. If a person plagiarizes much of their dissertation it not only devalues the degree, but also the credibility of the whole university.
A university is essentially a business that sells education. The end goal of ‘buying’ an education is to achieve a degree, which certifies a person in a specific area of expertise. Even if a few plagiarized dissertations are credited unknowingly, they still devalue the degree, which hurts the entire institution.
Moving forward into the professional world – qualifying credentials from a university also play a large part in a person’s future. A dissertation travels with an individual throughout their professional career, making a difference in where they are hired and what they can have published. In other words, a dissertation is often the gateway to an entire career. If that dissertation is a fraud, it can have a chain effect on a number of collaborating individuals and institutions.