SUU police cite plagiarism whistle-blower for theft
Southern Utah University police have cited a former English as a Second Language instructor for theft after a fellow instructor accused her of stealing plagiarized student papers that were later turned over to administrators and the news media.
Belinda Frost says she found them on her own shelf, placed there by someone else, in the office she shared with a dozen other part-time English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors.
The papers contained unattributed content from Internet sources such as Wikipedia and bore passing grades. Frost took the papers off-campus to photocopy, then returned the originals to the shelf of the responsible instructor.
Frost said the theft charge, along with a "trespass notice," delivered to her home Monday seems like payback for speaking out against what she believes are the ESL program's poor standards.
"This is such bad PR [public relations]. You're going after the whistle-blower. What was going on is so unfair to those kids," said Frost, who resigned Nov. 14 and emailed the papers to her dean, Mark Atkinson, along with an explanation of how she obtained them.
She shared some of the papers, with student names obscured, with The Salt Lake Tribune, which published a story on the issue Sunday.
SUU officials said they have no interest in pursuing theft charges against Frost, but campus police are obligated to investigate criminal allegations brought by another ESL instructor, Nina Hansen, who contends Frost unlawfully took her papers.
"We are not involved in anyway," SUU spokesman Dean O'Driscoll said. "It has been turned over to the county attorney because we don't' want to be seen as a participant."
Frost said she has been reporting plagiarism to ESL program directors for more than a year, yet the international students involved were not disciplined and were often passed to the program's next level. She also notified Atkinson, dean of continuing and professional studies, in July about ESL students getting passing grades without having attended classes, she said.
Last week, SUU officials put Hansen, the instructor who apparently wrote passing grades on the papers, on probation and started an investigation into how the ESL program deals with plagiarism.
On Monday morning, SUU Police Chief Rick Brown delivered the misdemeanor summons to Frost's Cedar City home, instructing her to appear in Iron County justice court within 14 days. It cites her for "theft of lost, mislaid or mistakenly delivered property." Brown also delivered a warning that she will be arrested for criminal trespass if she is found on the public school's campus.
This document is on SUU Public Safety letterhead, informing her she is a target of a university investigation and therefore is "trespassed from all property owned or operated by" SUU. The notice, which bears the chief's signature, remains in effect for a year, yet cites no legal authority or campus policy enabling police to enforce it.
O'Driscoll said such notices are common for former SUU employees to keep them from entering places where they are no longer welcome.
"The intent is to keep Nina and Belinda away from each other. [Police] are doing it to be on the safe side," O'Driscoll said.
However, the notice bars Frost not just from the ESL office, but the entire campus, where her daughter is enrolled in youth programs.
On Wednesday, Brown had visited Frost's home when she wasn't there, and he later emailed her a request to speak with her Monday about the ESL program. She had responded via email that she wouldn't speak with him without her lawyer present.
In a previous statement, O'Driscoll said, "The university doesn't not allow or condone plagiarism. We're disheartened to find that we have an instructor who didn't abide by that policy."
SUU intends to pursue specialized accreditation for the ESL program, which will require hiring instructors with "higher credentials," O'Driscoll acknowledged.
Discovering the papers
In her Nov. 14 resignation letter to Southern Utah University Dean Mark Atkinson, Belinda Frost explained how she encountered the graded student papers:
"A folder of another teacher's 'graded' papers was accidentally left on my shelf. When I searched through the folder to see who it belonged to, I found plagiarized papers. What surprised me about the papers was not that they were plagiarized but that the teacher who graded them had acknowledged the plagiarism and still gave the papers high marks. I feel that this incident is indicative of the lack of standards in our program, which includes lax grading policies and teacher qualifications. ... Because of the lack of standards in our program, I have no recourse but to resign my position."
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