Chair of institute has plagiarism ruling overturned

An external investigation has found that Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) chairman Flan Garvey committed unintentional plagiarism in a 2008 master’s thesis but this has been overturned on a technical appeal.

The three academics appointed in December to probe a complaint by 26 ITT academics found plagiarism in two chapters of the thesis about his Co Clare parish.

Their report, completed in February and now seen by the Irish Examiner, also concluded he did not appropriately reference and acknowledge all primary and secondary research. It said his degree was attained in a manner that was unjustified, but not fraudulent.

The report was accepted by the college’s exams and assessments review committee in February, but Mr Garvey referred the findings to an appeals committee.

It has upheld the appeal on grounds relating to the understanding of the nature of plagiarism, in a report finalised this week and also seen by the Irish Examiner.

It found that college rules around plagiarism were not clearly formulated or clearly communicated to postgraduate students. On that basis, it said, a finding of an award being unjustified would be unfair and inconsistent with due process in a case of “an unintentional and non-fraudulent infraction of an academic disciplinary rule”.

Last night, the college said it would immediately act on the recommendations of both committees and update the student handbook.

Given the deficiencies identified by the investigation, the appeals committee said a list of errors should be inserted in the official copy of the thesis.

This will then be notified to quality assurance body Qualifications and Quality Ireland (QQI).

Mr Garvey’s degree was awarded by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (Hetac), which merged with other bodies to form QQI last year.

Under Hetac rules, an award could be withdrawn and revoked where it emerged that a student had attained it in an unjustified manner, a finding now overturned in relation to Mr Garvey’s MA.

A QQI spokesperson said it would be considering the outcome, but the timescale of any decision is uncertain.

Mr Garvey told the Irish Examiner last night that he looks forward to returning to his duties as chair as soon as possible, having stepped back from the role while the matter was under investigation.

“I am delighted with the result that my appeal was successful, that I have been vindicated and my good name has been restored. I appeal to everybody within the college to work together in these challenging times for the good of the college.”

IT Tralee president Oliver Murphy, who has said there will be an investigation into leaks about the case to the media, briefed staff on the outcome yesterday.

However, a source told the Irish Examiner that staff are baffled at the outcome and many believe it places a question mark over any previous cases of students sanctioned for plagiarism.

Plagiarism finding

After word-for-word comparisons with texts cited by the complainants, the investigation panel found numerous tracts of Mr Garvey’s thesis were near-verbatim copies of insufficiently acknowledged or misleadingly cited primary or secondary sources.

“There are some very slight variations, mainly of punctuation and paragraphing, between thesis and original, but there is not a single sentence in this sub-section which can be said to be Mr Garvey’s own work,” they wrote of more than seven pages in chapter 1.

They said those pages had one reference to one source and were interspersed with occasional references to another.

One section complained of in chapter 4 was found not to be plagiarism after the investigators were made aware of Mr Garvey’s contribution to the authorship of a local history pamphlet.

The external investigation panel members were: Eda Sagarra, emeritus professor of Germanic studies at Trinity College Dublin; Thomas J Duff, former registrar of Dublin Institute of Technology; and Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, Irish language and literature professor at University of Notre Dame in the US, and formerly of University College Cork.

The 11-member appeals committee was chaired by former Dublin Institute of Technology president Brendan Goldsmith, with four IT Tralee staff and its student union president among the others.

Three of the other five were senior figures in the institute of technology sector, and the panel retained well-known barrister William Binchy as expert adviser.

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