UT System looks into plagiarism allegations

October 29, 2008 4:47:53 AM PDT
The University of Texas System is investigating allegations that the president of the University of Texas-Pan American plagiarized portions of her dissertation. Packets identifying the allegedly copied passages were anonymously sent to the UT System and several media outlets with unnamed faculty members claiming authorship.

The UT System received its copy Thursday, spokesman Matt Flores said.

"We are looking into it," Flores said. "Even though it is anonymous we do take it seriously."

The campus in Edinburg referred questions to the UT System. The UT System's general counsel and executives from the academic affairs department will look into the allegations and their findings will be made public, Flores said.

University President Blandina Cardenas received her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Her 1974 dissertation was titled "Defining Access to Equal Educational Opportunity for Mexican Americans: A Study of Three Civil Rights Actions Affecting Mexican American Students and the Development of a Conceptual Framework for Effecting Institutional Responsiveness to the Educational Needs of Mexican American Children."

Cardenas' dissertation ran more than 200 pages. The anonymous faculty team that investigated it claimed to have produced a 300-page report documenting 100 examples of plagiarism, using the definition that seven or more consecutive borrowed words require quotation marks.

In the 50-page excerpt sent to The Associated Press, seven examples are shown side-by-side with other authors' work.

Some appear nearer historical fact than lifting of original work.

For example, Cardenas wrote: "The wars which resulted culminated in the loss to Mexico of New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming."

Compared to a National Education Association report, which Cardenas did cite, that reads: "The result was the Mexican War and the loss by Mexico of nearly all that remained of her northern-most empire. To the United States were ceded much of New Mexico, most of Arizona, the future states of California, Nevada and Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming."

Though earlier in the same example, Cardenas' dissertation matched the NEA report word for word without quotation marks or citation: "By 1835 there were 25,000 to 35,000 American farmers, planters and traders in Texas and more were on the way."

In some examples, Cardenas cited the source in a footnote or directly attributed it in the text, but did not use quotation marks. Another example is confused by the fact that Cardenas' footnote suggests she was writing about something she was directly involved in developing.

But in another passage, her dissertation matches another author's work perfectly without citation. "The Mexican American is the product of the fusing of Hispanic and Mexican Indian cultures; to a greater or lesser degree, he is racially a mixture of Indian and European."

Cardenas took over as president of UTPA in 2004 following a national search.

Ala Qubbaj, a member of that search committee as then-president of the faculty senate and an engineering professor at the university, said the committee's review of candidates was thorough.

The group included faculty from UTPA as well as community leaders and other presidents from the UT System.

Cardenas' academic record and research work were considered, he said. Committee members did not read her dissertation, but they did speak with her disseration adviser as well as other people familiar with her body of work.

"Her integrity is beyond question," Qubbaj said.

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