West Liberty board votes to discipline but not fire president over plagiarism

West Liberty’s board of governors considered whether to terminate President W. Franklin Evans after plagiarism allegiations, but — in a 5-7 split vote — decided not to.

But the board did vote unanimously to place Evans under disciplinary supervision. There were few immediate details about what that entails.

The actions occurred during a Wednesday evening emergency meeting that was conducted via video teleconferencing. Members of the board went into executive session for about two hours before returning to take votes on the termination possibility and then the disciplinary action.

“I will motion that the board of governors places Dr. Evans under disciplinary actions. Dr. Evans will report directly to the board of governors regarding this discipline,” said Rich Lucas, chairman of the board.

He said detailed aspects will be approved with the cooperation of the Higher Education Policy Commission and determined by the board of governors.

W. Franklin Evans

Evans has served as president for less than a year after being hired in November, 2020, to lead the college in Ohio County. He started this past Jan. 1, becoming West Liberty’s first black president.

West Liberty’s Faculty Senate concluded that new President Franklin W. Evans committed plagiarism in multiple instances, including a recent convocation speech.

The controversy has drawn attention in West Virginia, as well as nationally through coverage by Inside Higher Ed.

Trouble emerged after a Sept. 15 fall convocation speech made by Evans. The speech included uncredited tips from personal finance writer Robert Farrington’s “5 Tips For College Freshmen to Help Maximize Year One,” originally published online at Forbes this summer.

After questions arose from faculty and students, Evans wrote in a letter that he had not been careful to credit the original source.

Over recent weeks, faculty continued to examine some of the president’s other public presentations, with a full discussion by the faculty senate on Sept. 21. The full Senate went over the speeches, comparing original source material, and determined that Evans had committed plagiarism on at least four occasions.

One was the convocation speech. The Faculty Senate noted that Evans had directed an archived video to be edited and updated with citations of source material.

Another was a speech from this summer commemorating Juneteenth, with uncredited language from sources like the Smithsonian and The New York Times. Yet another was a speech this year honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with uncredited wording from sources like National Public Radio. And another was a “Lunch with Books” presentation at an area library.

Last week, Evans issued an apology. 

“I regret my lack of attribution in any speech or presentation that may have been given. It was never my intent to give the impression that those were my exact words, and I failed to identify where the material came from. For that, I am sorry. I will make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Evans stated.

“I want the best for West Liberty University, its students, staff and faculty. My goal is to continue serving the university in the manner expected by the Board of Governors.”

The Faculty Senate last week released results of a survey indicating real concern about the plagiarism instances and how they could be affecting the university’s reputation.

The survey indicated that 86 percent of faculty respondents believe President Evans’ leadership has been compromised, 45 percent believe the issues could be resolved through punitive action from the board of governors, 73 percent said they would vote “no confidence” in President Evans’s leadership, and 60 percent believed President Evans should resign.

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