WVU admits mistakes in academic fraud case

WVU President E. Gordon Gee admits the University made mistakes in how it handled the case of Anoop Shankar and academic fraud.

Gee, appearing on Metronews Talkline Monday, said the University did not properly vet Shankar when hiring him and it took too long to finish the inquiry, and that’s damaging to the school.

“The only common currency that we have as a university is our integrity and our transparency and, in this instance, we did not do well,” Gee said.

Shankar was once viewed as a rising star at WVU’s School of Public Health.  The India native appeared to be a highly credentialed academic who could bring prestige and prized research dollars to the University.  In 2012, Shankar’s stock was so high that he was on the fast track to be appointed to the school’s Chair of Excellence.

But that’s when a routine review of Shankar’s vitae quickly turned up fabrications about his background, including where he attended school, his academic qualifications and his scholarly publications.

WVU forced Shankar out in 2012, but the academic fraud was never made public.  Shankar was eventually hired at Virginia Commonwealth University, but his employment there ended when the fraud allegations came to light last month when NBC first published the story.

Initially, WVU withheld comment, but it quickly became more forthcoming and Gee’s interviews with Metronews, the Dominion Post and other news outlets this week represent an attempt by the University to be more open about the embarrassing incident.

“We certainly didn’t do our due diligence,” Gee admitted, acknowledging that the process that led to Shankar being hired in the first place was sloppy.

To the University’s credit, the procedure for vetting Shankar when he was up for the big promotion here worked well.  Dr. Ian Rockett, chair of the WVU promotion and tenure committee at the School of Public Health, revealed Shankar’s academic house of cards quickly.

But Gee says the University made mistakes with the initial hiring and the length of the inquiry once Rockett turned up discrepancies.  And now Gee is charging Provost Dr. Joyce McConnell and Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Chris Colenda with developing systems and safeguards to try to prevent another Anoop Shankar incident.

Meanwhile, the University has to ensure that none of the research Shankar was associated with is tainted.  WVU says it has notified professional journals and grant funding agencies of their findings on Shankar.

It appears WVU initially wanted the case of Anoop Shankar to just fade away or perhaps Stewart Hall was just following the lead of lawyers who were overly concerned about a public discussion of a personnel matter.

We still might not have known about the fraud if a national news organization hadn’t gotten wind of it.

As President Gee said, the foundation of colleges and universities rests on their academic integrity.  One element of that integrity is their willingness to deal with academic fraud in a transparent and forthright manner.




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