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Argosy University changes mind, fires official accused of plagiarism

2-24-06 Lobby scenes in and around the Illinois Institute of Art Chicago, Argosy ( Photo by Bob Black/Sun-Times)

In a complete reversal of its earlier position, Argosy University has fired a school official who it said plagiarized her doctoral research project, and rescinded her doctoral degree.

Gregory O’Brien, president of the 13-campus Argosy system, said in an e-mail Friday that the school had concluded that allegations of plagiarism against faculty member Bindu Ganga were “with merit.” The allegations were first reported last month by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Argosy University has determined that plagiarism was committed in the completion of the research project,” O’Brien’s statement said. “The faculty member is no longer employed by the university.”

Her profile has been removed from the Web site of the school’s Chicago campus, where she was also director of training.

‘Consulting legal counsel’

The school also took away Ganga’s doctorate in clinical psychology, which she received from the school’s northwest suburban campus in 2000.

“The Psy.D. degree awarded to this individual based, in part, on the submission of this CRP document has been rescinded,” O’Brien wrote. The document in question is known as a clinical research project.

However, Ganga, in an interview Friday, noted that she had been cleared by the school after it first examined the charges last year.

“At that time I was cleared of any wrongdoing, and the plagiarism allegations were specifically determined to be unfounded,” she said. “So I am deeply troubled that the university has now taken action contrary to its original findings.”

Ganga declined to comment further, saying she was “consulting legal counsel to assess my options.”

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O’Brien’s statement did not say why the school had initially rejected the allegations when they were first raised by a student, Marla Decker. Nor did it address the school’s initial response to the Sun-Times, in which Chicago campus president Marcia Bankirer repeatedly said the plagiarism charges had no merit and questioned why the Sun-Times was pursuing the story. “There is nothing here,” she said then.

O’Brien — whose university is a division of Education Management Corp., a publicly traded company on Nasdaq — also did not respond to a series of questions from the Sun-Times.

The questions included whether any action had been taken against the faculty that approved Ganga’s project initially or against officials who initially dismissed the plagiarism charge.

After the story was published, the school announced that Ganga had been placed on paid administrative leave while a new committee investigated. The story reported that an analysis of Ganga’s paper conducted by Turnitin, an online plagiarism detection program, found that 45 percent of Ganga’s paper was identical or nearly identical to previously published works, including a book by Charles Ford called Lies! Lies!! Lies!!!

“I applaud Argosy for publicly acknowledging the plagiarism,” Ford said Saturday.

‘Insomnia for months’

The school’s statement also made no mention of whether the student would have her academic record cleared or altered. Decker was dismissed from the school last June, in part, because she pushed the plagiarism charge, according to a letter sent to Decker announcing the action. Decker later was allowed to graduate but her discipline remained a part of her permanent file.

Decker feels “vindicated” by the school’s latest action. But she is still upset that it took the Sun-Times story — and not her original complaint — to finally confirm the charges, she said.

“I had insomnia for months,” she said. “I thought my degree was getting pulled out from under me. There is a definite sense of relief that the school has finally investigated this properly.”

Decker, who has since moved out of state, said she has not been contacted by the school regarding the latest review.

Maia Feigon, president of the Argosy/Chicago Student Government Association, said the school’s action against Ganga should “drive home the point to students that this is something that schools are going to take seriously. Maybe it won’t affect you now, but it will at some point in your life.”