More than 100 people attended the Chapel Hill-Carbora School Board meeting Thursday night, many dressed in purple, to support Superintendent Nye Hamlett’s latest plagiarism challenge.
It was the first meeting since The News & Observer published a report on 2019 supervisor’s doctoral dissertation at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“The board knows that Dr. Hamlett is an effective, authentic leader, and as we watch the continuing attacks on public education, we are very grateful for her leadership as she continues to focus all of us on improving student outcomes in the district,” School — said board chair Rani Dasi to thunderous applause from the crowd.
The N&O, after receiving a thesis tip late last year, found 35 examples of sentences and paragraphs that were taken almost verbatim from sources that were in some cases misidentified or not identified at all.
While the Surgeon General’s report provided the most extensive examples, The N&O’s analysis noted at least 25 other passages that were duplicated from reports and online sources or that substituted a different word or phrase but were largely similar.
Instead of focusing on Hamlet’s thesis, board member Deon Temn said the community should support the district’s work on important issues of equity, education and funding.
“It’s unfortunate that one anonymous tip can undermine and destroy the goodwill of such an incredibly strong leader like Dr. Hamlet,” Temne said.
“Yet, with one dubious allegation, I have seen the same members of the community question its authenticity and credibility,” he said. “It’s even sadder to see other members of the community who may not be actively participating in these discriminatory actions, but still choose to remain passive and allow these actions (to stand).”
Hamlet’s Guide, Answer
Speakers who addressed the board Thursday also praised Hamlet, which launched in late 2020 at the height of the pandemic as students, teachers and parents still faced the emotional and social strain of taking online and then hybrid classes. .
They cited Hamlet’s efforts to address the pandemic in the district, promote the cause of equity, maintain open communication and be actively involved in individual schools and the community. In particular, they noted how she conducted an investigation in 2021 into allegations that two East Chapel Hill Middle School teaching assistants have been reassigned for being black.
“People need to get into the program and understand that we’re trying to move in a positive way,” said Vicki Fister-Fornville, a Chapel Hill-Carbora parent and graduate.
“What I do know is the superintendent, this black woman that some people are uncomfortable with because she has the power to run this district … they’re upset that she can do that, so they’re trying to get our attention.” she said.
Other speakers echoed her comments, including Chapel Hill native Danita Mason-Hogans, who reflected on the district’s first black superintendent, Naomi Geraldine House, who served from 1985-1992.
House was also “called names, ridiculed and subjected to unspeakable … insults,” Mason-Hogans said, acknowledging that “plagiarism is serious.”
“It’s important that the dissertation passes academic scrutiny, which happened at William & Mary and with Dr. Hamlet, and her institution admits no wrongdoing, which is good enough for me,” Mason-Hogans said. “I think it’s not enough that she has to endure an uneven investigative process and was made to be humiliated, I think she stands for justice.”
Hamlet listened quietly before thanking the crowd for “kind words, encouraging messages, prayers, and expressions of support.”
“My commitment to our students, our school district, community educators and leaders is to partner with you, support you and block for you. With our collective efficacy—another of our core values—we must be doing something right on behalf of our students, and it’s clearly time to take our social justice actions up a few notches.”
Public letter of support
Hamlet has broad public support, said a group of residents who took turns reading Thursday’s “An Open Letter to the Community of Chapel Hill-Carbora.” The letter, written by a multiracial group of elected officials and community leaders, has more than 700 signatures, they said.
The allegation against Hamlet is an “all too familiar pattern,” the letter’s authors said, noting similar plagiarism concerns raised in 2013 when the former principal of Chapel Hill High School, who was black, was accused of plagiarizing your own welcome to school message. and other internal letters to employees.
“Black educators in our city report excessive levels of scrutiny and suspicion regarding their academic education and their work,” the letter said.
“It’s not uncommon for principals to get phone calls from white parents asking about the credentials of black teachers. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that black workers are perceived as less qualified, come under more scrutiny, and are more likely to be disciplined or fired than white workers for the same mistakes and infractions,” it said.
Hamlet issues statements
Hamlet declined to be interviewed by The N&O, but she responded to the allegations in a Dec. 2 email and also issued public statement on the issue January 6.
In a Dec. 2 email, Hamlett told The N&O that she mistakenly attributed passages from the chief medical officer’s report, but did not say why the duplicate material was not in quotation marks. The 164-page thesis was written while Hamlett was also assistant superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia.
“When reviewing my 2018 thesis, the sources and citations accurately reflect and credit the research that contributed to my final product, but I now see instances where some citations should be placed elsewhere in the work,” Hamlett wrote.
In a Jan. 6 post on the county’s website, Hamlett again defended her work, saying the thesis includes credit where credit is due and accurately reflects her research.
She also criticized The N&O’s questions, saying it was a reminder that “being in public leadership requires excellence (and excessive scrutiny and judgment), sometimes at the expense of the progress and grace that I often encourage our community to extend to ourselves and others. »
The thesis, which focused on teacher readiness to respond to students’ mental health needs, will be revised, Hamlett told The N&O. Hamlett declined to say Thursday who is conducting the review because “it’s something I’m doing for my personal (reasons) and it’s not related to my job with the county.”
Once she receives feedback from a reviewer, Hamlett said she can make changes through the ProQuest research database. The online platform “has third-party software that checks for errors and plagiarism,” she said.
“It hurt, but it is what it is,” Hamlett told The N&O.
The district’s character code considers plagiarism a “conduct violation” that can result in students who are caught receiving “no credit, partial credit, or an alternative assignment.”
Plagiarism experts weigh in
Two experts contacted by The N&O said examples of duplicated wording and misquotes indicate deliberate plagiarism. A third said it looked more like sloppy work.
Harold “Skip” Garner, a biomedical professor who runs a website dedicated to plagiarism in academic papers, said William & Mary officials should take another look at Hamlet’s thesis.
“My review confirms that there were many significant areas in the dissertation that could be considered unethical and inappropriate, a violation of the standards of integrity of publication, especially for academic work,” said Garner, a professor at the Edward Weah College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg. , Va.
Nancy Cheshire, a professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine and former editor of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, had a different opinion.
Misquoted sources “should be corrected, if possible, if they are in the published literature, but they are not a reason to believe that this person is trying to cheat the system in some way,” said Cheshire, who is also the vice chairman of the Committee on publications. Ethics, an international group based in England.
William & Mary officials cited student privacy standards in declining The N&O’s interview requests.
In an email to The N&O, Margaret Constantino, the college’s director of doctoral programs and head of the three-person committee that reviewed Hamlet’s dissertation, noted that the dissertation review process is “very intensive and difficult.”
It includes “several full-time faculty” who work with students and review the work, a public defense of the student’s thesis and peer review by an external editor, Constantino told The N&O.
This story was originally published January 20, 2023 at 8:47 am.
Chapel Hill Carrboro supports Hamlet on plagiarism
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