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Regents: Plagiarism questions shouldn’t get in the way of policy

Nevada Board of Regents leaders indicated Wednesday that they won’t be looking into allegations that the Nevada System of Higher Education plagiarized a think tank’s report.

The statement followed a Brookings Mountain West release issued late Tuesday by Brookings Mountain West co-directors Mark Muro and Robert Lang stating the think tank considers the matter settled and didn’t want the questions of academic integrity to get in the way of policy.

“We agree with the fundamental points raised by Drs. Muro and Lang which are consistent with an initial internal review, namely, that while this could have certainly been handled better, the critical focus must remain on policy,” the statement by Regent Chairman Kevin Page and Vice Chairman Rick Trachok says.

The dispute concerns a report the think tank provided to higher education officials for background that wound up used verbatim and without attribution by a system official in a presentation to an interim legislative committee in June as part of an effort to create a multimillion-dollar grant program designed to improve the state’s workforce in “STEM” industries of science, technology, engineering and math.

Brookings didn’t finish its research until November. While the wording is largely identical, there are meaningful differences in the proposals.

Brookings and NSHE recommend different amounts of money: Brookings puts it at $5 million, NSHE at $3.5 million. In addition the two have different ideas about who will control that money. Brookings recommends local redevelopment agencies administer the grant funds, while NSHE recommends a council of representatives from various agencies, including NSHE, manage the money.

“The Board of Regents has acknowledged Brookings and Brookings Mountain West as key partners in advancing good policy for Nevada and beyond,” the statement said. “The Board has embraced the STEM Challenge Grant concept which was advanced by the important work of Brookings and looks forward to working with Brookings to see that this critical proposal is funded in the upcoming session of the Legislature.”

It remains unclear if that means some sort of compromise at the Legislature. As it stands, the two ideas will face of against each other.

Although leadership of the regents might feel settled, Nevada faculty and students have indicated they want answers.

Faculty and students were alarmed when Chancellor Dan Klaich rebuffed the plagiarism allegation, saying, “You don’t plagiarize when you identify the author.”

“If there is any ambiguity as to whether or not something was ethical, I think NSHE needs to review its own policies to include the chancellor,” UNLV senior and former student government senator Alex Murdock said after news of the plagiarism and intellectual property theft allegations broke earlier this month.

Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, has said brushing off the issue sends a harmful message to students of “do as I say not as I do.” Fishman said she saw two explanations for the incident, both troubling: Either the chancellor doesn’t understand plagiarism, or it was intentional.

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @betsbarnes on Twitter.

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