WAU Votes to Clear Presidential Plagiarism Charges, Purchase New Property

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Published:
May 9, 2019

On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the Washington Adventist University Board of Trustees issued two statements: one regarding their intent to purchase property owned by Washington Adventist Hospital, and the second regarding their investigation into the plagiarism accusation against President Weymouth Spence.

The first announcement states that the university “will offer to purchase the 14.5 acre property currently home to Adventist HealthCare’s Washington Adventist Hospital, which will relocate to Silver Spring in August.” The property is adjacent to the university and would double the size of the current campus, and “support its ongoing development into a rich learning environment that not only prepares students for success in today’s market but also serves as a resource to the community.”

This news comes on the heels of the announcement in March that the university would be placing 15 degree programs “on hold” and eliminating at least three employee positions, despite an otherwise positive budget report. While the justification for these decisions has never been stated to be a financial one, it does raise the question.

In response to this question, Richard Castillo, WAU vice president for integrated marketing and communication, replied with the following:

“Washington Adventist University along with the Columbia Union agree that operational funds of the university will not be allocated to the purchase or development of the property. The intention for the property is to serve as a financial support to the university and a further resource to the surrounding community of Takoma Park, MD. As stated in our public statement dated March 6th, 2019, ‘Growth and success for any institution of higher education will result in the necessity for adjustments and progressive movement and may not be a metric applied to a need for stasis.  As WAU moves to ensure 21st century relevancy for our current and future students, institutional adjustments will allow for the university to be agile and thrive rather than simply survive.’”

Regarding the accusations of plagiarism against President Spence, the trustees reviewed a report that was prepared by “a non-Adventist investigator [who] is an administrator with nearly 50 years of experience in higher education, who has an earned PhD, served as a college president, and now teaches other college presidents.”

The investigator concluded, “that there was no intentional offense identified, nor did the investigator deem the errors egregious,” according to the statement issued by the Board.

As a result of this conclusion, the WAU Board Executive Committee recommended to the Board of Trustees that due to no evidence of nefarious intent, the Board should “advise the president to apply a higher degree of rigor in his use of sources.” The Executive Committee also “acknowledged Dr. Spence’s valuable contribution to the university over the last 10 years and expressed confidence and appreciation for his continued visionary leadership.”

The Board of Trustees “voted strongly in favor” of the Executive Committee’s recommendation.

A faculty briefing follows each board meeting, and one question raised during yesterday’s briefing concerned the identity of the investigator. In response, faculty were informed that the individual had requested to remain anonymous, and be referred to only by his/her credentials, much like the original whistleblower on the plagiarism accusations who used the pseudonym “Bethany Buckingham.”

While the investigation cleared Spence of intentional offense and egregious error, it fell short of saying that he did not plagiarize. Spence himself did not deny the allegations in his April 4 letter to WAU faculty and staff, but rather pointed to the fact that his doctorate was confirmed by Nova Southeastern University according to their integrity standards, and that the other documents mentioned in the Plagiarism Report were non-scholarly and therefore not meant for scholarly analysis.

When asked for clarity regarding the situation, Castillo stated that, “We stand by our statement published yesterday May 8, 2019. The WAU Board Executive Committee brought a recommendation based on the prescription of an expert in an investigation that is a personnel issue that requires a certain level of discretion.”

Similarly, when the Columbia Union Conference was asked for comment regarding the plagiarism decision, Celeste Ryan Blyden, CUC vice president for strategic communication and public relations, replied that “Since Dr. Weigley [president of CUC] chairs the board, that statement released does represent our position.”

The Washington Adventist University Statement Regarding Plagiarism Accusations:

The WAU statement regarding its offer to purchase the hospital campus can be found on the WAU website here.

 

Further Reading:

WAU to Place 15 Degree Programs “On Hold,” Reduce Faculty/Staff Positions, March 7, 2019

Presidential Plagiarism Accusations Surface at WAU, April 5, 2019

 

Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org

Image courtesy of WAU.

 

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