Plagiarizing University President Avoids Termination

Earlier this month, we discussed the case of West Liberty University and its President, W. Franklin Evans.

Evans, who was hired for the job in November 2020, gave a freshman convocation speech to a mix of students and faculty on September 15. However, as the speech went on, it became clear that many of the words he was speaking were not his own and not attributed in the speech.

This led to further investigation of Evans’ speeches, which found at least three other incidents of him plagiarizing speeches he gave as university President.

Initially, the school’s Faculty Senate had taken the issue seriously, investigating the matter at a September 24th hearing. However, the school’s Board of Governors did not, issuing a blanket statement of support for Evans.

The Board of Governors met again this week and voted 5-7 to not terminate Evans. According to the vote, the member representing the faculty, Jason Metz, voted to terminate Evans while the member representing the student, Mackenzi Jones, voted against it.

The Board then voted unanimously to discipline Evans though there are no details as to what that entails. Evans will now report directly to the board, which has said that it will develop their response in accordance with the Higher Ed Policy Commission and their human resources department.

But, regardless of what action the Board does take, Evans is extremely lucky to walk away from the ordeal with his job. Other university Presidents have not fared as well, having been forced out for much smaller infractions.

A Difficult Argument to Make

University Photo of Evans

One of the more interesting things to have come out through the coverage of Evans’ story is news of a report presented by Metz at the previous Board meeting. There, of the faculty surveyed, some 86% felt that Evans’ leadership was “compromised” and that 73% would vote for no confidence and 60% would call for his resignation.

However, according to that report, it’s not just the faculty that is losing confidence. Reports from tour guides and others interacting with prospective students say that they are already seeing questions about the school’s academic integrity, and that some faculty members are already facing difficulties enforcing code of conduct violations due to a perceived double standard.

And these will be serious problems moving forward and issues that won’t fade, regardless of what disciplinary action the Board takes.

In short, every student who is expelled for plagiarism will have received a harsher penalty than the school’s President. How does one explain that to the student or their parents? While there are many reasons that keeping Evans as the President may be desirable, do those reasons outweigh potential long-term damage to trust between the school, its faculty and its students?

However, the school seems to have made its decision and will have to move forward with a President who is best known, at least on the national stage, for repeated acts of plagiarism. While that isn’t fair to the faculty, staff or students at the school, it is the reality they face.

Bottom Line

Evans could decide to resign. However, that seems unlikely. It’s also possible that the punishment the Board hands down could be stiff enough to send an adequate message. However, it will still be short of termination.

Unfortunately, there is almost no way that this school won’t have questions hanging over it for some time. Simply put, as a small, rural school, national headlines like these stick around. The school had an opportunity to put those questions to rest and has now missed it.

West Liberty University will likely be long known as the school with a plagiarizing President that didn’t feel strongly enough to push him out. Even if he goes on to become an excellent President in other ways, these questions will always linger.

As we discussed previously, the moniker of “plagiarist” doesn’t fade quickly. Now, that descriptor will apply both to Evans and to the school he helms.