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SUU instructor resigns amid complaints of student plagiarism, prompts university investigation

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27 2012 7:35 p.m. MST

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University is investigating its English as a Second Language program after an employee resigned over what she described as widespread plagiarism by students.

Belinda Frost resigned from her position as a part-time instructor Nov. 14 after raising complaints of lax grading policies and tolerance for instances of plagiarism for roughly 15 months, she said.

"I just felt like I had to resign," Frost said. "I felt immoral working there."

On Monday, Frost said she received a citation from SUU's campus police department for theft, along with an order to stay off university property. A news release issued by the university Tuesday clarified that Frost is allowed on campus but prohibited from entering the ESL offices and teaching areas.

Around the time of her resignation, Frost said she found a stack of graded assignments from another class placed on her shelf in the office she shared with other instructors. She said the papers contained plagiarized content but received passing grades, prompting Frost to make copies, which she then gave to university officials.

"They said I stole this teacher's papers," she said. "I was just appalled." 

Frost said the misplaced papers were the latest example of unpunished or loosely punished plagiarism turned in by ESL students.

She said that in her own class, she had failed several students for turning in unattributed and copied work. Often, those students would simply retake the class with another instructor or be advanced through the program despite the failing grade, Frost said.

She also said students would frequently use tools such as Google Translate to convert information from sources such as Wikipedia into different languages and back into English in an attempt to mask that they had copied the text verbatim.

"Nothing would ever get done," Frost said. "It was hard to even charge students with plagiarism because there was no policy backing you up."

Dean O'Driscoll, SUU's vice president of university relations, confirmed that the university had initiated an investigation into the ESL program. He also said that another instructor had been placed on probation in connection with the investigation.

"We are investigating all of the allegations raised by the former employee," O'Driscoll said.

In light of the plagiarism concerns, O'Driscoll said the university will bring in an independent third party from an accredited ESL program to audit SUU's program. The audit is expected to begin in a few days, he said.

ESL serves mainly international students, who must complete the program before being matriculated into the university, O'Driscoll said. Because the participants in the program are not yet SUU students and because the ESL program is run as a separate entity with its own policies, the students are not held to SUU's anti-plagiarism policy, which O'Driscoll said is clearly defined. 

Attempts to reach SUU Police Chief Rick Brown for comment were unsuccessful.

Contributing: McKenzie Romero

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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